At least 14 die in ‘tragic’ COVID-19 hospital fire in North Macedonia

At least 14 people died and many more were injured in a hospital fire in North Macedonia, health officials said.

The blaze occurred late on Wednesday in a makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients in the western city of Tetovo.

The main prosecutor’s office in the capital, Skopje, said no medical personnel was among the victims.

About a dozen people, including medical staff and patients, were injured.

North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev described the incident as a “huge tragedy” in a statement posted on Facebook.

He added there had been an explosion before the fire but said the cause was still being investigated. “This is a truly tragic event and I can assure you that the entire state leadership is committed to rapidly resolving this situation.

“I express my deepest condolences to the families and relatives of the deceased and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.”

Tetovo Mayor Teuta Arifi declared three days of mourning for the victims.

The prosecutor’s office ordered forensic experts to identify the remains, with the process expected to take longer than usual due to special protocols required because the victims were COVID-19 patients. Five prosecutors, from Tetovo and Skopje, are working on the investigation into the causes of the fire.

The country has been struggling with a wave of COVID-19 in recent weeks. Less than 30% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

The health ministry said the city of Tetovo suffered the highest number of hospitalisations and deaths during the latest virus wave.

Only 19% of the city’s residents were vaccinated in July, which health officials said caused great pressure on hospitals in August.

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