How shadows of past tensions between Macedonian majority and ethnic Albanian minority impede population registration.
At least 10 people have died after a fire swept through a temporary hospital treating coronavirus patients in North Macedonia, authorities said.
The fire broke out on Wednesday evening in Tetovo in the northwest of the Balkan country, said Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who immediately headed to the town.
“A huge tragedy has occurred in the Tetovo COVID-19 centre,” Zaev said on Twitter. “An explosion caused a fire. The fire was extinguished but many lives were lost.”
“At the moment, 10 people are confirmed to have died, but that number could rise,” Health Minister Venko Filipche said on Twitter, expressing his “profound condolences” to the victims’ families.
Local media showed images of a huge blaze at the hospital in the town’s west as firefighters raced to the scene. The fire was extinguished after a few hours.
It was unclear how many patients were in the hospital when the fire broke out at approximately 9pm local time (19:00 GMT), a senior government official told the Reuters news agency, declining to be named.
The modular COVID-19 unit was built last year at the hospital to look after coronavirus patients in the town of about 50,000 people.
“The fire was huge because the hospital is modular, there was plastic,” Tetovo deputy fire chief Saso Trajcevski told local television.
“We took out victims while we put out the flames.”
Several injured people were taken to hospitals in Skopje, the capital.
North Macedonia has a population of about two million, and its healthcare services are run down.
Coronavirus cases have been on the rise since mid-August, prompting the government to introduce stricter social measures such as health passes for cafés and restaurants.
The country reported 701 new coronavirus infections and 24 deaths in the past 24 hours.
Tetovo, mainly inhabited by ethnic Albanians, has one of the country’s highest number of coronavirus cases.