Nine COVID-19 patients killed in Turkey hospital fire

ANKARA, TURKEY (AP) – A fire broke out yesterday at an intensive care unit treating COVID-19 patients in southern Turkey after an oxygen cylinder exploded, killing nine people, the Health Minister said.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said the fire took place at the privately-run Sanko University Hospital unit in Gaziantep, 530 miles southeast of Istanbul. It cited a hospital statement identifying the victims as being between 56 and 85. The fire was quickly brought under control.

The statement said 14 patients undergoing intensive care treatment were transferred to other hospitals. An investigation is underway.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that nine people were killed in the fire, raising the earlier estimate of eight dead by the hospital and the Gaziantep governor’s office. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.

The governor’s office said 19 patients were in the unit when a “high pressure oxygen device” exploded at 4.45am. Other than the fatalities, no others were injured in the fire, it said.

Intensive care units across Turkey currently have a 74-per-cent bed occupancy rate due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to government figures, although medical associations said the figure is higher and their hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 patients.

On Friday evening, Turkey’s Health Ministry reported 26,410 new coronavirus cases, bringing the country’s total since March to 1.98 million. The figure includes asymptomatic cases, which Ankara did not report in the four months up to late November, prompting criticism that the government was trying to hide the extent of the country’s outbreak.

Turkey hit a record daily high of 246 COVID-19-related deaths reported on Friday for an overall reported coronavirus death toll of 17,610.

Police and medics gather outside the privately-run Sanko University Hospital in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey. PHOTO: AP