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Dozens killed in fire on coronavirus ward in Iraqi hospital

At least 58 people have been killed in a fire at a coronavirus hospital ward in southern Iraq.

Iraqi medical officials said more than 100 people were also injured in the blaze at the al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in the city of Nasiriyah on Monday.

The new ward, which held 70 beds, opened just three months ago.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press the fire was caused by an electric short circuit, while another said an oxygen cylinder exploded.

On Tuesday relatives were searching for traces of their loved ones inside the torched remains of the ward.

A blackened skull of a deceased female patient from the ward was found.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi chaired an emergency meeting in the wake of the fire and ordered the suspension and arrest of the health director in the Dhi Qar region, as well as the director of the hospital and the city’s director of civil defence.

A government investigation was also launched.

In the nearby Shiite holy city of Najaf, mourners prepared to bury some of the victims.

It was the second time a large fire killed coronavirus patients in an Iraqi hospital this year. At least 82 people died at Ibn al-Khateeb hospital in Baghdad in April, when an oxygen tank exploded, sparking the blaze.

That incident brought to light widespread negligence and systemic mismanagement in Iraq’s hospitals.

Doctors have decried lax safety rules, especially around the oxygen cylinders.

On Monday, Ammar al-Zamili, spokesman for the Dhi Qar health department, told local media that there were at least 63 patients inside the ward when the fire began. Maj. Gen. Khalid Bohan, head of Iraq’s civil defence, said in comments to the press that the building was constructed from flammable materials and prone to fire.

Iraq is in the midst of another severe COVID-19 surge. Daily coronavirus rates peaked last week at 9,000 new cases.

After decades of war and sanctions, Iraq’s health sector has struggled to contain the virus. Over 17,000 people have died of the virus among 1.4 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

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