More than 50 people have died after a fire in a coronavirus isolation ward at a hospital in the Iraqi city of Nasiriya. Much of Iraq’s health care system is in poor condition after years of conflict and angry relatives of the victims have been protesting outside the facility.
The cause of the fire at the al-Hussein hospital is unclear, but reports said it began after an oxygen tank exploded.
Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Kadhemi ordered the arrest of the head of the hospital.
The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mohamed al-Halbousi, tweeted that the blaze was “clear proof of the failure to protect Iraqi lives, and it is time to put an end to this catastrophic failure”.
Reuters news agency reported clashes between demonstrators and police at the scene, and two police vehicles set ablaze.
The new ward had space for 70 beds and was built just three months ago, medical officials told the Associated Press news agency. A health official said that at least 63 people were inside when the fire began.
“I heard a big explosion inside the coronavirus wards and then fire had erupted very quickly,” a hospital guard told Reuters. A search operation is continuing.
In April, an exploding oxygen tank started a fire that killed at least 82 people and injured 110 at a hospital in the capital Baghdad. Health minister Hassan al-Tamimi resigned after that fire.
The coronavirus pandemic has severely strained Iraq’s health service, already suffering from years of war, neglect and corruption.
Iraq has recorded 1.4 million infections and reported more than 17,000 deaths from coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The country has given at least one dose of a vaccine against Covid to just over one million of its roughly 40 million citizens, the World Health Organization says.