Deadly blaze at Macedonian COVID hospital

·2-min read

North Macedonia's government has declared three days of mourning following a deadly overnight fire in a COVID-19 field hospital that killed 14 people and injured a dozen more.

There is speculation the blaze was connected to the facility's oxygen supply.

The fire broke out late on Wednesday in the western city of Tetovo, where the unit had been set up following a recent spike in infections in the region that left local hospitals full.

Health Minister Venko Filipce said it was not yet clear whether all the 14 dead were COVID-19 patients or whether some visiting relatives might have been among them.

"We will run DNA tests on the victims which will confirm whether there were members of the families," Filipce said.

"It is difficult to express in words the pain that I feel for the lost lives and the loss of their families," he told a press conference Thursday evening.

Another 12 people were injured, and were transferred to the main hospital of Tetovo, where they were in stable condition, the minister said.

Addressing public pressure to resign in the wake of the blaze, Felipce said he would decide whether to do so after the investigation into the incident is completed.

The minister insisted that the 19 field hospitals set up across the country over the past year to deal with the pandemic were built to the specifications and standards laid out by the World Bank, which financed their construction through a loan.

"It is a tragedy that I can't even explain," said local resident Idriz Brahimi. "Those were sick people who couldn't get out. It is a huge catastrophe."

After an emergency meeting on the fire, the government ordered national flags to be lowered to half-staff for three days and all sports and cultural events and celebrations to be cancelled until Saturday.

The cause of the fire, which raced through the wooden panelled structure, was not immediately determined, although it was believed to have been an accident, potentially connected to the facility's oxygen supply.

President Stevo Pendarovski said during a visit to Tetovo that the investigation would be completed within five days, and that the cause "was not deliberate arson."

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