BAGHDAD - The death toll from a catastrophic blaze that erupted at a coronavirus hospital ward in southern Iraq the previous day rose to 58 on Tuesday, Iraqi medical officials said.
Two health officials said that more than 100 people were also injured in the fire that torched the coronavirus ward of al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in the city of Nasiriyah on Monday.
Earlier, officials had said the fire was caused by an electric short circuit, but have not provided more details. Another official said the blaze erupted when an oxygen cylinder exploded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
The new ward, opened just three months ago, contained 70 beds.
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 Dhi Qar province, where Nasiriyah is located, as well as the director of the hospital and the city's director of civil defense. A government investigation was also launched.
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 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 wave. Daily coronavirus rates peaked last week at 9,000 new cases.