Romanian who tried to save Covid patients from hospital fire hailed as hero

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

After suffering second and third degree burns to 40%, 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,” the Romanian 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 on 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 government said public health inspectors and the agency for emergency situations would check the conditions under which medical equipment was operating in all ICUs from Monday.

Almost 13,000 Covid-19 patients were in hospital across Romania as of Sunday, including 1,169 in ICU. The country has reported 360,281 coronavirus cases since February and 8,926 deaths.

Even before the pandemic, Romania’s healthcare system had been under pressure, dogged by corruption, inefficiencies and politicised management.

The country has one of the EU’s least developed healthcare infrastructures. One in four Romanians have insufficient access to essential healthcare as tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and pharmacists have left since the country joined the EU in 2007.

On Sunday, the Romanian doctors’ association said a strategy was needed to build new medical infrastructure regardless of who was in government.

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

“At least now, let’s do things that are organised and planned … so that such tragedies don’t happen again,” it said.

Saturday’s fire was Romania’s deadliest since 2015, when 65 people were killed in a nightclub blaze in Bucharest.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report