By STEPHEN MCGRATH, Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A fire at a hospital in the Romanian port city of Constanta killed at least seven COVID-19 patients, authorities said Friday.

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.

Interior minister Lucian Bode said Friday that the early official figure of nine dead was “wrongly” reported. “We are talking about seven people … five in hospital and two after being transferred to other hospitals,” he said.

The health ministry said in a statement that 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 but its cause is not yet known.

President Klaus Iohannis said in a statement Friday that the Romanian state “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Iohannis said that Romania’s “outdated” health care system has been put under an “unimaginable pressure” by the pandemic.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.

Romania has the lowest spending on health care in the EU relative to GDP at 5.2%, compared with an EU average of 10%.

The country of 19 million has had two other deadly hospital fires within the past year, which have raised concerns about the country’s ageing hospital infrastructure.

Last November, 10 people died after a fire tore through an intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients in the northern town of Piatra Neamt. Another blaze in January engulfed a ward at Bucharest’s Matei Bals hospital, killing at least five people.

After the Matei Bals fire, Iohannis 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.”

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