BAGHDAD: At least 23 people died when a fire broke out Sunday in a coronavirus intensive care unit in the capital of Iraq, a country with long-dilapidated health infrastructure facing mounting Covid-19 cases.
The fire started with an explosion caused by “a fault in the storage of oxygen cylinders”, medical sources told AFP.
It spread quickly, according to the civil defence, as “the hospital had no fire protection system and false ceilings allowed the flames to spread to highly flammable products”.
Iraq’s hospitals have been worn down by decades of conflict and poor investment, with shortages in medicines and hospital beds.
The incident sparked outrage on social media and the prime minister has called for an investigation into the cause of the blaze.
In the middle of the night, as dozens of relatives were at the bedsides of the 30 patients in the intensive care unit at Ibn al-Khatib hospital — reserved for the most severe Covid-19 cases in Baghdad — flames spread across multiple floors, another medical source said.
Videos on social media showed firefighters trying to extinguish flames at the hospital on the southeastern outskirts of the Iraqi capital, as patients and their relatives tried to flee the building.
“The majority of the victims died because they had to be moved and were taken off ventilators, while the others were suffocated by the smoke,” the civil defence said.
It told Iraqi state news its members had “rescued 90 people out of 120 patients and their relatives” at the scene, but could not give an exact number of the dead and wounded.
Medical and security sources told AFP that 23 people had been killed and some fifty others injured in the blaze.
The fire — which according to several sources was caused by negligence, often linked to endemic corruption in Iraq — immediately sparked anger on social media in the country, with a hashtag demanding the health minister be sacked trending on Twitter.
Baghdad Governor Mohammed Jaber called on the health ministry “to establish a commission of enquiry so that those who did not do their jobs may be

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