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Fire tears through Russian hospital's ICU, killing 5 COVID patients

A firefighter at the site of a fire at the Saint George hospital in Saint Petersburg, Russia, May 12, 2020. OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty

Moscow — A fire tore through a Russian hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) on Tuesday, killing five coronavirus patients. Authorities suspect the blaze was caused by a short circuit or some other malfunction of a ventilator machine.

The incident occurred on the sixth floor of St. George Hospital in Russia's northern city of St. Petersburg. The fire was contained and 150 people were evacuated from the building, the emergency officials said.

All of five of those who died in the fire were COVID-19 patients being treated on ventilators, according to various reports by Russian media.

"The ventilators are working to their limits," Russia's Interfax news agency quoted a source as saying. "Preliminary data indicates that it was overloaded and caught fire."

A criminal probe into the incident has been opened.

A woman and four men aged between 59 and 67 died in the fire. Officials said the cause of their deaths would need to be verified, as they were all in grave condition even before the fire. Fifteen other patients were rescued from the burning ICU alone.

St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, has the country's third-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections, with 8,050 registered cases.

Tuesday's blaze was the second deadly hospital ICU fire in just a four days. On Saturday, a fire in the ICU at a Moscow hospital killed one coronavirus patient. It has also been informally blamed, with an investigation still pending, on an apparent malfunction or short circuit in a ventilator machine.

The ventilators in both hospitals were produced by the same manufacturer, according to the state-run Tass news agency.

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Russia is now among countries with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, officials reported 10,899 new infections, bringing the official total number to 232,243.

The death toll is 2,116, including 107 people who died over the past 24 hours.

This week President Vladimir Putin eased Russia's "non-working" regime, aimed at keeping people home to stop the spread of the virus, though with the epidemic still growing steadily many lockdown restrictions will remain in place. 

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