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A fire in a coronavirus isolation unit at a hospital in the Iraqi city of Nasiriya has killed more than 60 patients.

After years of conflict, much of Iraq has the health-care system which is in shambles, and enraged relatives of the victims have been demonstrating outside the institution. The source of the fire at the al-Hussein hospital is unknown, however it is believed to have started when an oxygen tank exploded.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi, prime minister of Iraq, has ordered the hospital’s director to be detained. According to state media, 64 people have died, with nearly 70 more injured. The conflagration, according to Iraqi parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, is “concrete proof of the failure to protect Iraqi lives, and it is time to put an end to this disastrous failure.”

Demonstrators and police clashed at the location, according to Reuters, with two police vehicles set ablaze. Medical officials informed the Associated Press news agency that the new unit, which had 70 beds, was only three months old. At least 63 individuals were inside when the fire started, according to a health official.

A hospital guard told Reuters, “I heard a tremendous explosion inside the coronavirus wards, and then fire erupted very quickly.” A search operation is still underway.

Oday al-Jabri, who lost four family members and two neighbors in the fire, expressed his frustration and anger to the AFP news agency.

“What’s going on? I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on in Nasiriya.” he stated “I’m not sure how to comfort my family, neighbors, or relatives. I’m not sure what to say.”

Abu Nour al-Shawi, a relative, told the agency: “A coronavirus-infected patient is brought here for treatment, but he is returned in a casket with his family and children. Where else could something like this happen? This structure is for animals only, and even they are unable to survive there.”

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Iraq has had 1.4 million coronavirus infections and over 17,000 deaths as a result of the virus. According to the World Health Organization, little over one million of the country’s roughly 40 million citizens have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccination.

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