A fire at a temporary hospital in North Macedonia where coronavirus patients were being treated has killed at least 14 people, the country’s health minister said.
All 14 were patients, and 12 others treated at the center were injured in the fire that broke out Wednesday night, Health Minister Venko Filipce said. No health workers were reported injured in what Mr Filipce described as a “terrible accident”.
The fire, which started around 9 p.m. at a mobile hospital in Tetovo, northwest of the country, was extinguished within 45 minutes, but it quickly spread throughout the building, a fire officer told a local news outlet.
Footage from the scene showed a plume of black smoke rising as flames engulfed the hospital. Videos later aired on local news showed fire trucks and wheelchairs scattered throughout the burnt-out shell of the structure, a one-story modular building.
The fire was partly caused by explosions, according to the country’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, who immediately launched an investigation. The prime minister’s office said the cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
Oxygen tanks used to treat patients with severe Covid-19 have been blamed for deadly fires in other coronavirus clinics around the world. At least 39 people were killed at a hospital in southern Iraq in July after an oxygen tank exploded in a ward treating Covid-19 patients. In April, a fire caused by an explosion of an oxygen tank at a coronavirus hospital in Baghdad killed at least 82 people.
In a statement on social media, Mr Zaev called the fire a “great tragedy” and expressed his condolences to the families of the dead.
“The fire has been extinguished, but many lives have also been extinguished,” he said, adding: rescuers had done their best to save lives.
He promised authorities would determine the cause of the fire and noted that investigators were already on the scene. “This is truly a tragic event and I can assure you that the entire state leadership is committed to quickly resolving this situation,” he said.
North Macedonia, where only 27 percent of its roughly two million residents are fully vaccinated, has seen a surge in coronavirus infections since August.
Since it gained independence 30 years ago, North Macedonia has worked to develop its national health system, but experts say there are still significant challenges ahead. In a 2018 report, the World Health Organization said the health system was suffering from underfunding, a lack of adequate equipment and a shortage of health workers.