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Iraqi Authorities Revise Down Death Toll in Covid Hospital Fire



NASIRIYA, Iraq — Regional officials on Thursday revised down the death toll from a fire that swept through a hospital’s coronavirus ward in southern Iraq this week, saying they had confirmed 60 victims instead of the 92 initially reported by the state news media.

The fire broke out late Monday in a newly constructed ward for coronavirus patients at the Imam Hussein Teaching Hospital in the southern city of Nasiriya. It spread quickly, burning for three hours. The scene at the hospital was chaotic in the aftermath of the fire, and regional officials gave differing death tolls and explanations for the cause.

By the end of Tuesday, two state-run Iraqi news media outlets had reported that 92 people were dead, citing the health ministry for Dhi Qar Province, which includes Nasiriya. But the health ministry’s spokesman at the time, Amar Bashar, said he had told one of the state-run outlets that 72 people killed in the fire had been identified based on information from the morgue in Nasiriya.

Mr. Bashar resigned later that day, and the head of the province’s health ministry and the hospital chief were fired — adding to the complications surrounding the dissemination of information about the fire.

Also on Tuesday, other health ministry officials told reporters that at least 20 bodies had been burned so badly that officials were using DNA tests to identify them — a tally that, when combined with the 72 bodies the ministry said were identified, would add up to the reported figure of 92.

On Thursday, the provincial health ministry said the correct death toll was 60, and the central government in Baghdad gave the same total. Dr. Saadi al-Majed, who was appointed the head of that ministry after the previous director was dismissed, said on Wednesday that the forensics department had confirmed that number.

“Thirty-nine bodies exactly were handed to the families,” Dr. Majed said. Another 21 sets of badly burned remains had been sent to Baghdad to be identified through DNA. The Nasiriya morgue confirmed that 39 bodies had been identified and provided a list of names.

Falih Hassan and Awadh al-Taiee contributed reporting.


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