Baghdad coronavirus hospital fire kills 82: Official - GulfToday

Baghdad coronavirus hospital fire kills 82: Official


People look on at Ibn Khatib hospital after a fire caused by an oxygen tank explosion in Baghdad. Reuters

Gulf Today Report

Iraq’s prime minister fired key hospital officials on Sunday hours after a fire broke out in an intensive care unit for coronavirus patients in Baghdad, causing deaths and injuries.

A fire sparked by an oxygen tank explosion killed at least 82 people and injured 110 at a hospital in Baghdad that had been equipped to house COVID-19 patients, an Interior Ministry spokesman said on Sunday.

"We urgently need to review safety measures at all hospitals to prevent such a painful incident from happening in future,” spokesman Khalid al-Muhanna told state television, announcing the toll.


India coronavirus cases set new global record

Prime Minister Modi says India shaken by new coronavirus 'storm'

US to deploy support to India as coronavirus cases surge

Initial reports indicated the fire at Ibn Al-Khatib hospital late on Saturday was caused when an oxygen cylinder exploded.

The flames spread quickly across multiple floors in the middle of the night, as dozens of relatives were at the bedside of the 30 patients in the hospital's intensive care unit where most severe COVID-19 cases are treated, a medical source said.

"The hospital had no fire protection system and false ceilings allowed the flames to spread to highly flammable products," the civil defence said.

"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," it added.

Firefighters rushed to battle the flames that raged across the second floor of the hospital. Civil defence teams were busy putting out the flames until the early hours of the morning.


The fire broke out in the Baghdad hospital that cares for coronavirus patients late on Saturday. AP

Ambulances transported dozens of wounded. There were initial reports of over a dozen dead, but authorities had not released official casualty figures as of midday on Sunday. The Health Ministry said at least 200 people were rescued from the scene.

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.

Rundown hospitals

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 Prime Minister Mustafa Al Khademi called for an investigation into the cause of the blaze, and declared three days of national mourning.

In response to the fire, Mustafa Al Kadhemi fired the director-general of the Baghdad Health Department in the Al-Rusafa area, where the hospital is located. He also fired the director of Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital and its director of engineering and maintenance, according to a statement from the Health Ministry and his office.

After daybreak, dozens of tall oxygen cylinders that had been evacuated could be seen lined up outside the building, alongside gurneys and scattered debris, an AFP photograph said.

Videos on social media showed firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze as patients and their relatives tried to flee the building.

Amir, 35, told AFP he "saved his brothers who were at the hospital by the skin of his teeth".

"It was the people who got the wounded out."


More than 200 patients in all were rescued, according to the health ministry, which pledged to release an official toll of the dead and wounded later.

The fire – which according to several sources was caused by negligence often linked to endemic corruption in Iraq – sparked anger on social media, 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 inquiry so that those who did not do their jobs may be brought to justice".

In a statement, the government's human rights commission said the incident was "a crime against patients exhausted by COVID-19 who put their lives in the hands of the health ministry and its institutions and instead of being treated, perished in flames".

The commission called on the prime minister to fire Health Minister Hassan al-Tamimi and "bring him to justice".

Kadhemi responded by calling for "an investigation" – echoing President Barham Saleh and parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi – and said he wanted results "within 24 hours".

After the fire first broke out, Al Khadhimi held an emergency meeting at the headquarters of the Baghdad Operations Command, which coordinates Iraqi security forces, according to a statement on his Twitter account.

In the meeting he said the incident amounted to negligence.

"Negligence in such matters is not a mistake, but a crime for which all negligent parties must bear responsibility,” he said. He gave Iraqi authorities 24 hours to present the results of an investigation.

UN envoy to Iraq Jeannine Hennis-Plasschaert expressed "shock and pain” over the incident in a statement and called for stronger protection measures in hospitals.



Related articles