Ten people have died after an explosion at a temporary hospital treating Covid-19 patients in the North Macedonian town of Tetovo.
Local media images show “images of a huge blaze at the hospital in the town’s west”, Reuters said, as “firefighters raced to the scene” to battle the fire which was “extinguished after a few hours”.
An unnamed senior government official told the news agency that “it was unclear how many patients were in the hospital when the fire broke out” at around 9pm local time, while Health Minister Venko Filipce tweeted: “Ten people have been confirmed dead in the blaze so far, but the number could rise. This is a very sad day.”
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Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who France24 reported “immediately headed to the town”, added in a tweet that the “huge tragedy” was caused by “an explosion”, adding: “The fire was extinguished but many lives were lost.”
The temporary Covid-19 facility was “built last year at the hospital to look after coronavirus patients in the town of about 50,000 people”, Al Jazeera said. The broadcaster added that Tetovo deputy fire chief Saso Trajcevski told local media that “the fire was huge because the hospital is modular, there was plastic”.
“North Macedonia has a population of about two million, and its healthcare services are run down”, Al Jazeera said. Tetovo, which is “mainly inhabited by ethnic Albanians”, has “one of the country’s highest number of coronavirus cases”, it added.
Euronews reported that “only 19% of the city’s residents were vaccinated in July, which health officials said caused great pressure on hospitals in August”.
The country has reported a surge in cases in recent weeks, recording 701 new infections and 24 deaths in the past 24 hours. The government has recently introduced new restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
According to Deutsche Welle, “injured medical personnel and patients were being taken to hospitals in the capital city, Skopje which lies 45 kilometres (28 miles) to the east”. Meanwhile, “investigators have gone to the scene to determine the cause” of the blaze.
The fire took place as the former Yugoslav republic celebrated the 30th anniversary of its independence, with festivities planned in Skopje, including a military parade.
Prime Minister Zaev said: “The fight for life is still going on and all services are doing everything they can to save people”, France 24 reported. He sent his “deep condolences to the families and of the deceased” and “wishing the injured a quick recovery”.
Fires at Covid-19 facilities have been reported around the world, with the BBC noting that “oxygen cylinders have been blamed for a number of fires at hospitals treating coronavirus patients since the pandemic began.
“Ten people died in a fire at Gaziantep in Turkey last December,” said the broadcaster, while “a similar fire claimed 10 lives in Peatra Niamt in Romania in November 2020”.
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