A fire at a COVID-19 hospital in Romania has killed at least two people, according to local authorities, the latest in a string of deadly blazes at healthcare facilities in the country over the past year.
The fire in the central Romanian city of Ploiesti broke out at about 4am local time (02:00 GMT) on Thursday.
It struck in a wing of the hospital where 21 patients were receiving care, The Associated Press news agency reported. The cause of the fire was not yet known.
“The fire was extinguished fast, but unfortunately two people died”, Health Minister Cseke Atilla told local media, adding that an investigation had been opened into the incident.
Officials identified the two victims as male patients in their 70s. A nurse who reportedly suffered serious burns was transferred to a hospital in the capital Bucharest. Other patients were evacuated.
Interim Prime Minister Florin Citu sent his condolences to the families of the victims and said “such tragedies must not be repeated” as he warned Romania’s healthcare system was being strained by a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.
“I always asked that the hospitals be prepared for wave four,” Citu told reporters. “We are facing an overload of the medical system due to wave four, and everyone involved must ensure that all measures are taken for the safety of patients.”
Succession of lethal blazes
Romania, a European Union member state home to 19 million people, has experienced three other deadly hospital fires in the past 12 months.
In October, a fire killed seven people in the intensive care unit of a hospital in the eastern city of Constanta.
That came after a separate blaze in January killed five patients at a COVID-19 hospital in Bucharest and an incident last November that saw 10 people die in a fire at an intensive care unit at the northeastern Piatra Neamt county hospital.
Officials have begun regularly inspecting oxygen lines and fire permits at hospitals.
Even before the pandemic, Romania had one of the EU’s least-developed healthcare facilities.
The state has built one hospital in the last 30 years, spends the least on healthcare in the 27-member bloc and has a shortage of doctors and nurses.
It is now grappling with one of the highest COVID-19 mortality rates in the world, with record daily infection numbers throughout October further stretching the system.
There were more than 17,400 COVID-19 patients, including 310 children, being treated in Romanian hospitals on Thursday, including 1,823 in intensive care units.
Romania has the second-lowest coronavirus vaccination rates in the EU, with about 40 percent of its population fully inoculated. Only Bulgaria has a lower total of fully vaccinated people.