May 12 (UPI) -- Several COVID-19 patients died at a hospital in St. Petersburg, Russia, when a fire was caused by faulty ventilators, emergency officials said Tuesday.
The fire began in a sixth-floor intensive care unit at St. George's Hospital, which had been designated to treat coronavirus patients. The ICU held 20 patients, 15 of whom were rescued. Officials said five died.
Dozens of other patients were evacuated from the hospital and the fire was extinguished after a few hours. The patients were later readmitted and the hospital has since returned to normal operations.
Alexei Anikin, head of the regional department of the Russian emergencies ministry, said officials are looking into the possibility the fire was caused by the ventilators used to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
The ICU ventilators were operating at full capacity, making them vulnerable to fire.
More than 232,000 have tested positive for the disease in Russia. Due to thousands of new cases, Russia now has seen the second-highest number of cases, trailing only the United States.
Russia's representative to the World Health Organization said there's reason for optimism that the disease is stabilizing.
Melita Vujnovich told Russian television that data indicates the daily count is declining on average and the overall upward trend is slowing, but also warned that further progress depends on human behavior.
In Britain, the death toll surpassed 40,000 Tuesday, according to the Office of National Statistics.
The new deaths firmly entrench Britain as the worst-affected European country. The next-highest death total is in Italy, at just under 30,800, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The Italian government will allow regional authorities to decide when to open bars, restaurants, barber shops and beauty salons beginning next Monday.
The government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has delegated decision making authority to each region. Under national rules, all non-essential businesses are to remain closed until at least June 1. National authorities, however, retain the authority to intervene if there are future outbreaks.