Bangladesh orders probe after deadly fire at COVID-19 facility

KONFRONTASI-Authorities in Bangladesh have launched an investigation after a fire swept through a makeshift coronavirus isolation unit in the capital, Dhaka, killing at least five people, according to local media.

The Fire Service and Civil Defence on Thursday formed a four-member committee to investigate the blaze at the isolation unit in the United Hospital located in the posh Gulshan area of the capital.

Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam told the Daily Star newspaper that eight of 11 fire extinguishers at the hospital were past their expiry date.

The blaze comes as the country faces a rising number of coronavirus cases.

Fire service official Kamrul Hasan told AFP news agency the fire began when an air conditioner exploded in a shed belonging to the United Hospital.

"Fire service teams have controlled the fire in around an hour. Five people have died of suffocation due to the fire," Hasan earlier said.

The blaze quickly raced through the unit due to the presence of flammable items such as sanitiser, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Sudip Kumar Chakraborty told AFP.

"Three of those who have died are COVID-19 patients and the rest two were COVID-19 negatives," he said.

Police said the fire started at 9:48pm Bangladesh time (15:48 GMT) and soon engulfed the isolation unit, which was built adjacent to the hospital in recent weeks to treat suspected coronavirus patients.

A doctor at the hospital told AFP that panic gripped patients as the fire spread.

"We are already very stressed out at work and the fire only added to our headache," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"Thank God they controlled the fire before it reached the main hospital. Otherwise, it would have been a catastrophe," he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened in Bangladesh in recent weeks, with the death toll hitting 544 and nearly 40,000 people infected.

The government this week ordered most of its state-run hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients.

Previously, only a handful of public and private hospitals were treating the virus.

Health experts say the number of actual cases and fatalities in Bangladesh is likely much higher, and that the government figures are limited due to low testing levels.[mr/aje]