A fire at a temporary hospital where coronavirus patients were being treated in North Macedonia has left at least 14 people dead, the country’s health minister said.
All 14 were patients, and 12 others being treated at the center suffered injuries in the fire that broke out Wednesday evening, the country’s health minister, Venko Filipce, said. No health workers were reported injured what Mr. Filipce described as a “terrible accident.”
The fire, which began at around 9 p.m. at a mobile hospital in Tetovo, in the country’s northwest, was extinguished within 45 minutes, but it had spread quickly through the building, one fire official told a local news outlet.
Footage from the scene showed a plume of black smoke rising as flames engulfed the hospital. Videos aired later on local news showed fire trucks at the scene and wheelchairs scattered around the charred shell of the structure, a one-story modular building.
The blaze was driven in part 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 had yet to be determined, and that three days of national mourning had been announced.
Oxygen tanks being used to treat patients with severe Covid-19 have been blamed for deadly fires at other coronavirus clinics around the world. In July, at least 39 people were killed at a hospital in southern Iraq after an oxygen tank explosion in a ward where Covid-19 patients were being treated. In April, a fire caused by an oxygen tank explosion at a coronavirus hospital in Baghdad killed at least 82 people.
Sasho Trajcevski, the deputy commander of the Tetovo fire department, told the local television station 360 that the plastic elements in the modular building had driven the flames.
In a statement posted on social media, Mr. Zaev called the fire a “great tragedy” and offered his condolences to the families of the dead.
“The fire has been extinguished, but many lives have also been extinguished,” he said, while adding that emergency workers had done their best to save lives.
He pledged that the authorities would determine the cause of the fire, and noted that investigators were already at the scene. “This is a truly tragic event and I can assure you that the entire state leadership is committed to rapidly resolving this situation,” he said.
North Macedonia, where just 27 percent of about two million residents have been fully vaccinated, has seen a wave of coronavirus infections since August. The country had put in place 19 temporary modular hospitals to deal with the influx of patients during the pandemic.
Since achieving independence 30 years ago, North Macedonia has worked to develop its national health system, but experts say that major challenges remain. In a 2018 report, the World Health Organization said that the health system suffered from underfunding, a lack of adequate equipment and a shortage of health care workers.
Alisa Dogramadzieva contributed reporting.