Iraq lowers hospital fire death toll to 60

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Iraq has put the total death toll in a fire that ripped through an isolation ward for coronavirus patients two days ago at 60 people, 32 lower than an earlier fatality figure.

On Tuesday, health officials said 92 people had died in the blaze that broke out the previous night at Imam al-Hussein hospital in Iraq's southern city of Nasiriyah, about 375 kilometres south of the capital, Baghdad.

But the Iraqi health ministry said on Wednesday that the total dead were 60, including 21 unidentified fatalities. The ministry stressed it was the only official source of statistics, without explaining the discrepancy further.

"Measures are being taken to identify the unknown corpses," the ministry said, according to Iraq's state news agency INA.

Officials earlier said there had been more than 60 patients on the ward when the fire erupted, plus the medical staff.

The fire destroyed the 600 square metre ward, built to take up to 100 patients after the coronavirus spread last year.

Witnesses said the blaze started when an oxygen cylinder exploded.

In April, a similar incident occurred at a hospital in Baghdad, killing more than 80 people, with the health minister resigning afterwards.

Iraq has been struggling to control the spread of the coronavirus amid a slow vaccination drive. The country is also experiencing a deep economic crisis compounded by the pandemic and a fall in oil prices, Iraq's main source of income.

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