At least 44 people were killed and over 67 injured in a fire likely caused by an oxygen tank explosion at a coronavirus hospital in Iraq’s southern city of Nassiriya, health officials and police said on Monday.
As rescuers combed the smoke-charred building in search of more bodies, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held urgent meetings with senior ministers and ordered the suspension and arrest of health and civil defense managers in Nassiriya, his office said in a statement.
The manager of the hospital was also suspended and ordered to be arrested, the statement added.
Already decimated by war and sanctions, Iraq’s healthcare system has struggled to cope with the coronavirus crisis, which has killed 17,592 people and infected more than 1.4 million.
“Health crews carried charred bodies out of the burning hospital while many patients were coughing from the rising smoke,” a Reuters reporter at the site of the fire said.
Health officials at Nassiriya said search operations at the al-Hussain coronavirus hospital were continuing after the fire was brought under control, but thick smoke was making it difficult to enter some of the burnt wards.