The blaze spread through the intensive care ward designated for Covid-19 patients at the public hospital in the city of Piatra Neamt.

Firefighting engines and ambulances are stationed outside the hospital in Piatra Neamt, northern Romania, November 14, 2020.
Firefighting engines and ambulances are stationed outside the hospital in Piatra Neamt, northern Romania, November 14, 2020. (AP)

A fire at a hospital treating Covid-19 patients in northeastern Romania has killed 10 people Saturday and injured 10 others, seven of them critically, officials said. Prosecutors quickly opened a criminal investigation.

The blaze spread through the intensive care ward designated for Covid-19 patients at the public hospital in the city of Piatra Neamt, local Emergency Situations Inspectorate spokesperson Irina Popa said. Most of the people who died or were injured in the blaze. were hospital patients, .

Health Minister Nelu Tataru told Romanian media the fire at Piatra Neamt Regional Emergency Hospital was “most likely triggered by a short circuit.”

Romania’s national prosecutor’s office said it would investigate the blaze as a possible case of criminal manslaughter. The prosecutor who led the probe into a 2015 blaze that killed 64 people at an underground nightclub in Romania's capital, Bucharest, was assigned to lead the new investigation, the office said.

Tataru told reporters six surviving patients would be transferred to a Covid-19 hospital in the eastern Romanian city of Iasi.

The injured doctor, who had severe burns on 40 percent of his body, would be transferred to a hospital in the Bucharest.

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Investigators wearing protective suits stand inside the destroyed Covid-19 intensive care ward at the hospital in Piatra Neamt, northern Romania, November 14, 2020
Investigators wearing protective suits stand inside the destroyed Covid-19 intensive care ward at the hospital in Piatra Neamt, northern Romania, November 14, 2020 (AP)

Hospital management

News outlets reported that Piatra Neamt Regional Emergency Hospital has long been poorly managed, with eight government-appointed managers overseeing the facility in the last year.

"In future legislation, all public hospitals will be coordinated by the health ministry," Tataru said without elaborating. Local hospitals are currently run by county councils, making overall supervision of the health system difficult.

Tataru said the Piatra Neamt hospital would continue to run an intensive care unit on a separate floor.

The hospital's current manager, Lucian Micu, was appointed just three weeks ago after his predecessor resigned over the poor treatment of patients. The resignation followed media reports of patients, including many suspected to have Covid-19, being forced to wait outside in the cold to see a doctor.

Micu said Saturday that a doctor on duty tried to save the patients from the flames and was in critical condition with first- and second-degree burns covering 80 percentof his body. Another doctor and two nurses also were being treated for burns.

Piatra Neamt is about 353 kilometres (219 miles) north of Bucharest.

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A burned bed from the destroyed Covid-19 intensive care ward at the hospital in Piatra Neamt, northern Romania, November 14, 2020.
A burned bed from the destroyed Covid-19 intensive care ward at the hospital in Piatra Neamt, northern Romania, November 14, 2020. (AP)

Romanian government

The fire at the Colective nightclub sparked massive protests that forced the Romanian government to relinquish office. The government was led at the time by the left-leaning Social Democrat Party, known as PSD.

The PSD hopes to reclaim power in the next general election, set for December 6. It is almost certain to use the Saturday fire in Piatra Neamt in its attacks against the centre-right National Liberal party, or NLP, which has controlled Romania’s minority government since last October.

The minority government has been struggling to contain the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic by curbing social spending, and the tragic death of patients in a public Covid-19 hospital is likely to add to the ruling party's woes ahead of the election.

Romania, which has one of the European Union's least developed healthcare infrastructures, has reported 353,185 coronavirus cases and 8,813 deaths.

Just under 13,000 people with Covid-19 were in hospital across Romania on Saturday, including 1,172 in intensive care units.

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Burned equipment on a table inside the destroyed Covid-19 intensive care ward at the hospital in Piatra Neamt, northern Romania, November 14, 2020.
Burned equipment on a table inside the destroyed Covid-19 intensive care ward at the hospital in Piatra Neamt, northern Romania, November 14, 2020. (AP)
Source: AP