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the coronavirus crisis

Fire at Iraqi hospital treating COVID-19 patients kills at least 82

At least 82 people were killed and 110 injured after a fire broke out Sunday in the intensive care unit of the Ibn al-Katib Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq. The ICU was reserved to treat patients suffering from the most severe cases of COVID-19. The fire, which is now under control, reportedly spread quickly beyond the ICU because the "hospital had no fire protection and false ceilings allowed the flames to spread to highly flammable products."

There's no official word on what sparked the fire, but Al Jazeera cites doctors at the scene who believe the source was an accident that caused an oxygen tank to explode. Most Iraqi hospitals do not have a central supply of supplemental oxygen, Al Jazeera notes, which means patients who need it (which would be common among people with severe COVID-19 infections) are given a cylinder placed by their bed. Because of staff shortages, relatives visiting patients are sometimes tasked with changing the cylinders, a doctor told Al Jazeera.

Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has called for an immediate investigation into the fire and quickly dismissed the director-general of the Baghdad Health Department in the al-Rusafa area, where the hospital is located, as well as the director of the hospital and its director of engineering and maintenance. Meanwhile, the government's human rights commission said the incident was "a crime against patients exhausted by COVID-19" and urged al-Kadhimi to also fire Hassan al-Tamini, the country's health minister. Read more at Al Jazeera and BBC.