Doctor hailed as hero as Romania hospital fire kills 10

Bucharest (AFP) –


A doctor left badly burned in a Romanian hospital fire that left 10 dead was hailed as a hero on Sunday after it emerged he had tried to help Covid-19 patients to safety.

After suffering second- and third-degree burns to 40 percent of his body, the doctor, named in local media as Catalin Denciu, was transferred to Belgium's Queen Astrid military hospital on Sunday for specialised treatment.

"I express my respect for the heroic doctor who showed particular courage and spirit of sacrifice in trying to save the patients," Prime Minister Ludovic Orban told local media, in praise echoed by doctors' unions and local media.

Ten people suffering from Covid-19 died in the fire late Saturday in an intensive care unit of a hospital in the northeastern town of Piatra Neamt. The seven men and three women ranged in age from 67 to 86, the hospital said.

Six others were seriously injured.

The prosecutor general has opened an enquiry into the tragedy, while the health ministry has suggested the fire could have been caused by an electrical short circuit.

The blaze recalled Romania's previous deadliest fire, at Bucharest's Colectiv nightclub in October 2015, which left 64 people dead, and prompted angry questions over how it could have been allowed to happen.

A survivor of the Colectiv disaster, Alexandra Furnea, called on authorities "to do what they didn't do for us" and show that lessons had been learned over the past five years.

"Do not hide behind self-serving lies, don't mention outdated protocols in order to justify a crime," Furnea wrote in a Facebook post.

Local media reported that the preliminary inquiry showed that the fire safety plans for the second floor of the building, where the fire broke out, had not been updated for 30 years.

In another Facebook post, fellow Colectiv survivor Mihai Grecea called for the resignation of Health Minister Nelu Tataru.

- Shock and sympathy -

Local media have also revealed serious problems in the management of the hospital.

The facility has had eight directors over the past year, one of whom served for just three days in May.

Romania's political class reacted with statements of shock and sympathy for the victims.

President Klaus Iohannis said he was "profoundly saddened" by the tragedy, which he said had "touched the whole country".

"I am at the side of all those who have been affected by this terrible accident," Iohannis said on his Facebook page.

The incident prompted the centre-left Social Democrats (PSD) and liberal USR-Plus parties to suspend campaigning for parliamentary elections early next month.

The tragedy hit as Romania struggles to cope with the impact of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Digi24 TV, the hospital is seeking temporary storage for the victims' bodies as the hospital morgue was already full before the fire.

Largely spared the worst during the first wave of the pandemic, Romania has seen mounting numbers of infections and hospitalisations in recent months.

On Saturday, it reported 129 new virus deaths, bringing the total death toll to 8,813.

The country of 19 million is one of the poorest in the European Union and its dilapidated and understaffed health system is ill-equipped to deal with a spike in hospital admissions.