07/13/2021, 09.34
IRAQ
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Blaze engulfs Covid ward in Nassiriya leaving over 50 dead

The fire broke out in a wing of the Al-Hussein hospital. Initial reports indicate it was caused by the explosion of an oxygen cylinder. The Prime Minister has ordered the arrest of the hospital director. Outside, there were violent clashes between citizens and police. In April, a similar incident occurred in a hospital in the capital: more than 80 people died. 

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - More than 50 people have been killed in an extremely serious fire that broke out in an isolation wing for Covid patients in a hospital in Iraq; the incident triggered a violent popular protest against the poor conditions of the health system and led to clashes between demonstrators and police. In April, a similar event had involved a hospital in the capital, causing more than 80 deaths. On that occasion, the Chaldean Patriarch spoke of a "humanitarian disaster". 

It was only late yesterday evening that the authorities managed to put out the flames that had hit the Al-Hussein hospital in Nassiriya, in the south of the country. At the moment, the causes are still unclear, but according to an initial report, the fire was caused by the explosion of an oxygen cylinder. 

In response to the incident, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi ordered the arrest of the hospital manager, while outside the building the relatives of the victims vented their anger, with Reuters reporting violent clashes with the police and two police vehicles set on fire. 

The new ward set up in response to the health emergency triggered by the coronavirus pandemic could accommodate up to 70 beds and was built only three months ago. A local health officer reports that 63 people were in the hospital at the time of the fire. I heard a very loud explosion," said a guard, "inside the Covid-19 ward, and then a fire broke out very quickly. 

Rescue teams are continuing to inspect the area, while controversy is mounting on the political front. For House Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi, the fire is "clear evidence of the failure to protect the lives of Iraqis" and it is time to "put an end to this catastrophic failure". Back in April, a tank explosion in a Baghdad hospital caused dozens of deaths and the resignation of the then Health Minister Hassan al-Tamimi. 

The coronavirus has contributed to the collapse of a national health system that was already precarious before the pandemic and had been plagued by decades of neglect and corruption. To date, there have been 1.4 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 17,000 deaths. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) sources, to date just over one million citizens have received (at least) one dose of vaccine out of a total population of around 40 million. 

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