Some 82 people have been killed and 110 injured in a huge fire in the intensive care unit of a Baghdad hospital treating COVID-19 patients, according to Iraqi authorities.
Three days of national mourning have been declared after disaster at the Ibn al-Khatib Hospital, which initial reports suggest was caused by an oxygen cylinder exploding.
Paramedics carried the bodies, many burned beyond recognition, to al-Zafaraniya Hospital elsewhere in the capital. Forensics teams will attempt to identify them by matching DNA samples to relatives, but countless people are still waiting for news about loved ones who are as-yet unaccounted for.
Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman of the country’s semi-official but independent Human Rights Commission, said that among the dead were at least 28 COVID-19 patients who were on ventilators.
It took firefighters and civil defence teams until the early hours of Sunday to put out the flames. The Health Ministry said more than 200 people were rescued from the blaze.
In the immediate aftermath, the government has suspended a number of key officials in connection with the catastrophe. They include the director-general of the Baghdad Health Department in the al-Rusafa area, where the hospital is based, and the director of Ibn al-Khatib Hospital.
The devastating blaze came as Iraq tries to tackle a severe second wave of the pandemic. At least 15,200 people have died from COVID-19 in Iraq from an official total of 100,000 confirmed cases.