Iraq’s Interior Ministry said on Sunday that 82 people died and 110 others were injured in a catastrophic fire that broke out in the intensive care unit of a Baghdad hospital which was treating seriously ill coronavirus patients.
Negligence on the part of hospital authorities has been blamed for Saturday night’s blaze, which initial reports suggested was caused when an oxygen cylinder exploded in a ward at the Ibn al-Khatib hospital.
Iraq’s prime minister sacked key hospital officials hours after the incident.
Among the dead were at least 28 Covid-19 patients on ventilators, Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for the country’s independent Human Rights Commission, a semi-official body, said on Twitter.
Firefighters rushed to battle the flames that raged across the second floor of the hospital.
Civil defence teams helped fight the fire until the early hours of the morning.
Ambulances transported dozens of wounded, with the Health Ministry saying at least 200 people were rescued from the scene.
Doctors at the scene were frazzled by the chaos unfolding around them. They said numerous burned bodies were carried out of the hospital by paramedics.
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.
In response to the fire, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi sacked the director-general of the Baghdad Health Department in the al-Rusafa area, where the hospital is located.
He also dismissed the director of the Ibh al-Khatib hospital and its director of engineering and maintenance, according to a statement from the Health Ministry and his office.
After the fire first broke out, Mr al-Khadhimi held an emergency meeting at the headquarters of the Baghdad Operations Command, which co-ordinates 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.