04/26/2021, 10.26
IRAQ
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Card. Sako decries Baghdad Covid hospital blaze a humanitarian disaster

The still provisional toll of the fire that struck the Ibn Al-Khatib hospital has risen to 82 dead and over 110 injured. Inside were hospitalized patients affected by the new coronavirus, while the country faces the second wave of the pandemic. Among the causes, "the storage of oxygen cylinders" without safety standards. Pope Francis’ prayer.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The latest toll - but still provisional and which could worsen in the next few hours - in a fire that broke out yesterday in the intensive care unit for Covid-19 patients of a Baghdad hospital is at least 82 victims and over 110 injured.

During the Regina Caeli Pope Francis expressed condolences and prayers for the dead and their families; a suffrage ceremony was held in Najaf, a holy city in Iraq, while the population is angry over an incident caused by years of corruption and mismanagement of local administrations.

Yesterday the Chaldean patriarch, Card. Louis Raphael Sako, visited the hospital and expressed the support of the Iraqi Church for the dead and their families. In a note published on the patriarchate website and sent to AsiaNews, the cardinal asked for "God's prayer and mercy for the dead" and "a speedy recovery for the wounded". The cardinal speaks of a "humanitarian and national disaster" which requires "unity and solidarity" in the response "to avert such shameful disasters in the future".

According to the latest rumours, at the origin of the fire there are oxygen cylinders "stored without the minimum respect for safety conditions". The incident sparked protests from Iraqis, who called for the resignation of Health Minister Hassan Al-Tamimi. Faced with mounting anger, the head of government Moustafa Al-Kazimi suspended the minister from his duties.

The fire at Ibn Al-Khatib hospital has flared up as the country is facing a second wave of the new coronavirus pandemic, with a daily average of about 8 thousand new infections, which represents the highest figure since the beginning of the health emergency. The confirmed cases would be over one million and the victims around 15,200.

The Prime Minister announced three days of national mourning and provisionally awarded 10 million dinars (about 5700 euros) to each family of the victims. The fire broke out in the night between April 24 and 25, most likely caused by the explosion of some oxygen cylinders "stored without compliance with safety conditions" as stated by hospital medical sources behind anonymity.

For hours the flames devoured non-fireproof false ceilings, which favoured the spread of the fire. Rescuers pulled patients from their beds to save them from the flames; however, the lack of oxygen supplied by the machinery to which they were attached was fatal. Still others died from inhaling toxic substances triggered by the flames. The delay in the intervention of the fire brigades also aggravated the deadly toll, also linked to the fact that the hospital is located in a peripheral and rural area of ​​the Iraqi capital.

Prime Minister al-Kazimi has announced the opening of an "investigation", also supported by the President of the Republic Barham Saleh and by the President of Parliament Mohammed Al-Halboussi. In the next few days there will be interrogations of the Minister of Health, the Governor of Baghdad Mohammed Jaber, the health manager of East Baghdad, the medical director, the heads of security and those responsible for technical maintenance.

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