An intensive care unit at an Egyptian hospital caught fire on Monday, killing seven COVID-19 patients, according to the country’s public prosecutor.
The blaze erupted in the coronavirus ward of a private hospital in Alexandria, along Egypt’s north coast. Six men and one woman were killed, said Gov. Mohamed el-Sharif.
The Department of Civil Protection blamed an electric short-circuit for the fire. Police are still investigating but preliminary reports indicate the fire started in the room’s air-conditioner, according to a statement from public prosecutors.
After hearing the air-conditioner unit explode, nurses scrambled to stem the flames, but the victims were already overcome by the thick, billowing smoke.
“In just seconds, there was a massive fire and none of the workers were able to control the situation because of the rapid spread,” Badrawy Hospital said in a statement.
Safety standards and fire regulations are poorly enforced in Egypt and have been linked to many deaths.
One patient was injured in the blaze and the rest were evacuated, the prosecutors added.
Firefighters doused the blackened remains of ventilators, beds and other medical supplies in the coronavirus ward. The fire did not spread to other parts of the hospital.
A similar blaze erupted at a coronavirus isolation centre in the capital, Cairo, last month without causing casualties.
The accidents highlight the risks in Egypt’s struggle to fight the virus, which has overwhelmed hospitals in recent weeks.
The country lifted a variety of coronavirus restrictions on Saturday, reopening cafes, gyms and clubs, even as its case count soars.
On Monday, the Egyptian Health Ministry reported 1,566 infections, including 83 deaths, bringing the total to 66,754 and 2,872 fatalities — the highest death toll in the region.