More than 50 people were killed after a fire in a coronavirus isolation in a hospital in the Iraqi city of Nasiriya.
Many of Iraq’s health care system is in a bad state after years of conflict and angry relatives of the victims are protesting outside the facility.
The cause of the fire at al-Hussein Hospital is unclear, but reportedly started after an oxygen tank exploded.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has ordered the arrest of the head of the hospital.
The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mohammed al-Halbousi, tweeted that the fire was “clear evidence of the failure to defend the Iraqi lives, and it is time to put an end to this devastating failure”.
The Reuters news agency reported clashes between protesters and police at the scene and two police vehicles caught fire.
The new section has room for 70 beds and was built just three months ago, medical officials told the Associated Press news agency. A health official said at least 63 people were inside when the fire broke out.
“I heard a big explosion in the coronavirus sections and there was a rapid outbreak,” a hospital guard told Reuters. A search operation continues.
In April, an exploding oxygen tank set on fire killing at least 82 people and injuring 110 in a hospital in the capital, Baghdad. Health Minister Hassan al-Tamimi has resigned following the fire.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit Iraq’s health service hard, which has suffered for years from war, neglect and corruption.
According to Johns Hopkins University data, Iraq recorded 1.4 million infections and reported more than 17,000 coronavirus deaths.
The country has given at least one dose of vaccine against Covid to just over one million of its approximately 40 million citizens, the World Health Organization says.