Iraq’s interior ministry has said 82 people died and 110 were injured in a catastrophic fire that broke out in the intensive care unit of a Baghdad hospital tending to severely ill coronavirus patients.
Negligence on the part of hospital authorities has been blamed for the fire on Saturday night, which initial reports suggested was caused by an oxygen cylinder exploding in the ward of Ibn al-Khatib hospital.
Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, dismissed key hospital officials hours after the incident.
Among the dead were at least 28 patients with severe symptoms of the virus on ventilators, tweeted Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman of the country’s independent Human Rights Commission, a semi-official body.
Firefighters rushed to battle the blaze that raged across the second floor of the hospital. Civil defence teams were putting out the flames until the early hours of the morning. Ambulances transported dozens of wounded. The health ministry said at least 200 people were rescued from the hospital.
Doctors at the scene spoke of the chaos unfolding around them. They said a number of burned bodies were carried out by paramedics from the hospital floor.
Iraq is grappling with a severe second wave of the pandemic. Daily virus cases average about 8,000, the highest since Iraq began recording infection rates early last year. At least 15,200 people have died of coronavirus in the country among a total of at least 100,000 confirmed cases.
In response to the fire, Kadhimi dismissed the director general of the Baghdad health department in the al-Rusafa area, where the hospital is located. He also fired the director of Ibh al-Khatib hospital and its director of engineering and maintenance, according to a statement from the health ministry and his office.
After the fire broke out, Khadhimi held an emergency meeting at the headquarters of the Baghdad Operations Command, which coordinates Iraqi security forces, according to a statement on his Twitter account.
In the meeting he said the incident amounted to negligence.
“Negligence in such matters is not a mistake, but a crime for which all negligent parties must bear responsibility,” he said. He gave Iraqi authorities 24 hours to present the results of an investigation.
The UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, expressed “shock and pain” over the incident in a statement and called for stronger protection measures in hospitals.