At least 52 people died and 22 were wounded when a massive fire engulfed the coronavirus isolation ward of an Iraqi hospital Monday, a health official said.

The fire broke out at the Al-Hussein hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah late Monday and was brought under control by local civil defence forces.

A medical source with the health directorate told AFP the “main reason behind the fire… was the explosion of oxygen tanks”.

Haydar al-Zamili, the local health authority’s spokesperson, said early Tuesday 52 bodies were retrieved and another 22 people were wounded in the latest toll, after the fire had “ripped through the COVID isolation ward”.

“The victims died of burns and the search is continuing,” he added, noting that there were fears people could still be trapped inside the building.

The ward had space for 70 beds.

The deadly hospital blaze is the second such fire in Iraq in three months.

Outside the hospital, dozens of young demonstrators protested.

“The (political) parties have burned us,” they shouted in unison.

The fire also prompted furious calls on social media for the resignation of top officials.

Local authorities imposed a state of emergency in Dhi Qar governorate, of which Nasiriyah is the capital, and ordered doctors on leave to help treat the injured.

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