Baghdad: The death toll from a massive fire in a Baghdad hospital for coronavirus patients rose to 82 on Sunday, as anxious relatives searched for those missing and the government suspended key health officials for alleged negligence. The blaze, described by one witness as “volcanoes of fire,” swept through the intensive care unit of the Ibn al-Khatib hospital which tends exclusively to coronavirus patients with severe symptoms. Officials said the blaze, which also injured 110 people, was set off by an exploding oxygen cylinder.
Maher Ahmed, a nurse, said most of those killed suffered severe burns. Others were overcome by smoke inhalation, unwilling to leave behind their coronavirus-afflicted relatives hooked up to ventilators. Ahmed said these patients could not be moved. “They would have minutes to live with the absence of oxygen.” He said he and others watched helplessly as one patient struggled to breathe, overwhelmed by smoke. “Everyone has some responsibility for this incident. From regular citizens to (officials) at the top of the pyramid,” he said.
Widespread negligence on the part of health officials is to blame for the deadly fire, Iraq PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi said. Following a special cabinet meeting to discuss the incident, the government suspended key officials, including the health minister and the governor of Baghdad province. Other officials, including the director of the Ibn al-Khatib Hospital, were withdrawn from their posts. It took firefighters and civil defence teams until the early hours of Sunday to put out the flames.
The fire came as Iraq grapples with a severe second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Daily virus cases now average around 8,000, the highest since Iraq began recording infection rates early last year. At least 15,200 people have died of coronavirus in Iraq among a total of at least 100,000 confirmed cases.