BUCHAREST – A hospital fire in the Romanian port city of Constanta killed at least seven COVID-19 patients Friday, prompting concerns over the state of the country's ageing health care infrastructure amid the pandemic. It was Romania's third deadly hospital fire in less than a year.
All the victims were in the intensive care unit of Constanta’s Hospital for Infectious Diseases, said Constantin Amarandei, head of the city's emergency inspectorate.
The health ministry said 113 patients were in the medical unit of the hospital and all the survivors have now been evacuated. The fire was extinguished by mid-morning.
The head of Romania’s Department for Emergency Situations, Raed Arafat, said “irregularities” had been discovered in the hospital’s electrical installations system and that the case prosecutor is investigating.
Prime Minister Florin Citu sent his condolences to the bereaved families and said it's “unacceptable that such tragedies happen in Romanian hospitals.”
“It is important for the Ministry of Health to see what the short-term solutions are so that such tragedies do not happen again,” he told a press conference. He said he has demanded the dismissal of the hospital manager.
“We’re trying to change something after 30 years in which almost nothing was done in Romania’s health care system,” Citu added.
President Klaus Iohannis said Romania “has failed in its fundamental mission to protect its citizens.”
“I am horrified by the tragedy that took place this morning at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Constanta,” he said. “It is a terrible new drama that confirms the deficient infrastructure of the Romanian health system.”
Iohannis said Romania’s “outdated” health care system has been put under an “unimaginable pressure” by the pandemic.
Romania’s hospitals are facing an onslaught of hospitalizations due to a rapid surge of COVID-19 infections, which is stretching the country’s hospitals to maximum capacity.
Romania on Thursday recorded its highest number of infections since the pandemic started — 12,032 new cases.
The country of 19 million has the lowest spending on health care in the EU relative to GDP at 5.2%, compared with an EU average of 10%.
During the pandemic, fires in COVID-19 hospitals or wards have cost scores of lives in other countries — including another two in Romania.
Last November, 10 people died after a blaze tore through an intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients in the northern Romanian town of Piatra Neamt. Another blaze in January engulfed a ward at Bucharest’s Matei Bals hospital, killing five people.
On Sept. 8, a fire in a COVID-19 field hospital in North Macedonia killed 14.
In Iraq, a fire in a COVID-19 ward in a hospital in the city of Nasiriyah, believed to have been started either by a short-circuit or an oxygen cylinder explosion, killed 92 people. In April, at least 82 people died in a Baghdad hospital blaze — many of them COVID-19 patients — after an oxygen tank exploded.
After Romania's Matei Bals fire, President Iohannis had called for urgent and “profound” reform. He said tragedies like it “must not happen again.”
Vlad Mixich, a Romanian public health specialist, told The Associated Press that hospital fires in Romania are “inevitable” and said that the authorities need to urgently invest in new public hospitals.
“In the last 32 years only three small and medium-sized public hospitals were built in Romania,” he said. “When the ICUs are overcrowded due to the surge of COVID patients, these kinds of accidents are inevitable.”
Mixich said that Romania’s ageing health care infrastructure “is hardly compatible with modern medical technology.”