Iraqi COVID hospital fire death toll rises | Coronavirus pandemic news
Health officials said a fire in the coronavirus ward of a hospital in southern Iraq has caused the death toll to rise to 92. Grieving relatives attacked the government when such a disaster occurred for the second time in three months.
Officials said a fire at the Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriyah on Monday night injured more than 100 people, highlighting the country’s medical system paralyzed during decades of war and sanctions.
The police and the civil defense department said that investigations showed that when sparks from the faulty line spread to the oxygen tank, the oxygen tank burst into flames.
Prime Minister Mustafa Kadimi convened an emergency meeting to order the suspension and arrest of the health director, hospital director and the civil defense minister of Zigar Province. The government has also initiated a time-bound investigation.
Al-Kadhimi called the tragedy “a deep wound in the consciousness of all Iraqis”. His office issued a statement calling for national condolences.
In a tweet on Tuesday, President Barham Saleh attributed the hospital’s “disaster” to “continuous corruption and mismanagement, which underestimated the value of Iraqis’ lives.”
The Nasiriya Court stated that it had ordered the arrest of 13 local officials in connection with the fire.
Mismanagement and neglect
On Tuesday morning, the distressed relatives were still looking for traces of their loved ones, looking for burnt blankets and fragments of belongings in the charred remains of the ward. The black skull of a deceased female patient was found in the ward.
On Monday, a health worker told Reuters before entering the burning building that the fire trapped many patients in the coronavirus ward, making it difficult for rescue teams to reach.
When relatives gathered nearby, the rescue team was using heavy cranes to remove part of the charred and melted wreckage of the hospital where COVID-19 patients were being treated.
Many people wept openly, with anger in their tears, accusing the government of Digarr Province, where Nasiriyah is located, and the federal government in Baghdad for years of mismanagement and negligence.
“The entire national system collapsed. Who paid the price? The people inside. These people paid the price,” said Heydar Ascari at the fire scene.
Mohammed Fadhil was waiting to receive his troublesome body, and he said it was a disaster. “There was no quick response to the fire, there were not enough firefighters. The sick were burned to death. This is a disaster,” he said.
DNA test to identify dead bodies
Although some corpses were collected for burial and mourners cried and prayed on the coffin, the remains of more than 20 severely charred corpses needed DNA testing to identify them.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdul Wahid reported from Nasiriya that the forensic team had identified about 39 corpses, while dozens of other corpses were still in the “confirmation process”.
“We met the families of victims who could not find their relatives here. Dozens of body parts could not be easily identified,” Abdelwahed said.
“The other person we met lost five family members-three [were] COVID-19 patients and others are either visitors or people eager to save their loved ones. “
In April, a similar explosion occurred in a COVID-19 hospital in Baghdad, killing at least 82 people and injuring 110 others.
With the surge in daily infections, Iraq has registered more than 1.4 million coronavirus cases and more than 17,000 deaths.
The head of the Iraqi semi-official human rights commission said Monday’s bombing showed that security measures in the health system are still ineffective.
“A few months later such a tragic incident again means there is still no [sufficient] Measures have been taken to prevent them from happening,” Ali al-Bayati said.
The head of the local civil defense authority Salah Jabbar said that the hospital was built with lightweight panels to separate the wards, which made the fire spread faster.
A doctor at the hospital declined to be named. His shift ended a few hours before the fire broke out. He said the lack of basic safety measures meant that this was a brewing accident.
“The hospital does not have a fire sprinkler system, or even a simple fire alarm,” he told Reuters.
“In the past three months, we have complained many times that a cigarette butt may have a tragedy at any time, but every time we get the same answer from the health officials:’We don’t have enough money’.”