Ten people died in a fire Wednesday evening at a hospital treating coronavirus patients in North Macedonia, authorities said.

The fire broke out following an explosion in a Covid-19 clinic 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 least 10 people died in the disaster, Health Minister Venko Filipce said.

“At the moment, 10 people are confirmed to have died, but that number could rise,” he said on Twitter, expressing his “profound condolences” to the victims’ families.

The fire occurred as the former Yugoslav republic celebrated the 30th anniversary of its independence, with festivities in the capital Skopje, including a military parade.

Investigators have gone to the site to try to determine the cause of the disaster.

Fire services were alerted to the blaze at around 1900 GMT, and it took about 45 minutes to extinguish.

The modular Covid unit had only been built last year at the hospital to look after coronavirus patients in Tetovo, a town of around 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 transported to hospitals in the capital.

“The fight for life is still going on and all services are doing everything they can to save people,” Zaev said, expressing “deep condolences to the families and of the deceased”.

“I wish the injured a quick recovery”.

North Macedonia has a population of around two million and its healthcare services are run down.

It has reported a rise in coronavirus infections recently, with the daily death toll reaching around 30. The country has recorded more than 6,100 fatalities in total since the start of the pandemic.

Covid-19 hospitals in other countries have been hit by explosions followed by fires.

In Iraq, dozens of people were killed in fires that occurred after oxygen cylinders exploded in April and July.

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