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At least 50 killed in COVID-19 hospital ward fire in Iraq

People inspect the damage at the site where a fire broke out at al-Hussain coronavirus hospital, in Nassiriya, Iraq, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani

A fire swept through a coronavirus ward in southern Iraq, killing at least 50 people and injuring dozens more, Iraqi medical officials said late Monday.

The officials said all those who died suffered severe burns during the blaze at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in the southern city of Nasiryah. At least 50 people were killed and others were in critical condition, they said.

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The officials said the fire was caused by an electric short circuit, but did not provide more detail. Another health official in Dhi Qar province, where Nasiriyah is located, said the fire erupted when an oxygen cylinder exploded.

The Health Ministry has not provided an official account of the cause of the fire.

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The new ward, opened just three months ago, contained 70 beds, said two medical officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Ammar al-Zamili, spokesman for the Dhi Qar health department, told local media there were at least 63 patients inside the ward when the fire began. Maj. Gen. Khalid Bohan, head of Iraq’s civil defense, said in comments to the press that the building was constructed from flammable materials and prone to fire.

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It was the second time a large fire has killed coronavirus patients in an Iraqi hospital this year. At least 82 people died at Ibn al-Khateeb hospital in Baghdad in April when an oxygen tank exploded, sparking the blaze.

That incident brought to light widespread negligence and systemic mismanagement in Iraq’s hospitals. Doctors have decried lax safety rules, especially around oxygen cylinders.

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Iraq is in the midst of another severe COVID-19 wave. Daily coronavirus rates peaked last week at 9,000 new cases.

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