Fire at North Macedonia COVID-19 hospital caused by ‘short circuit’

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A deadly fire at a COVID-19 hospital in North Macedonia was caused by a short circuit, authorities have said.

The public prosecutor’s office said that the malfunction had occurred in a cable connected to a defibrillator used to resuscitate a patient.

The fire quickly spread to rooms in the hospital due to the presence of stored oxygen, it added.

Fourteen people were killed in the blaze in the northwestern town of Tetovo last month, prompting the country’s health minister to offer his resignation.

In a statement on Tuesday, prosecutors said the overheating cable set alight a junction box attached to the defibrillator, a mobile phone charger, and another device.

The authority said that medical staff attempted to extinguish the initial flames, but the blaze spread quickly to the roof panels of the field hospital.

The temporary facility, which had been built amid a surge in coronavirus cases, was destroyed within minutes.

Twelve patients and two visiting relatives were killed, and another 12 people were injured.

“As all hospitalised patients were connected to the central oxygen supply … the fire spread through the facility in a very short period of time,” the prosecutor’s office said.

But North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said that he would accept the resignations of Health Minister Venko Filipce, his deputy minister, and two senior hospital administrators.

“There is no reason to attribute political or managerial responsibility [to Filipce],” Zaev said, adding that he has “full confidence” in the minister.

Zaev said the field hospitals were built under emergency conditions during the pandemic and were intended to only treat milder COVID-19 cases.

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But following a surge of infections and a shortage of beds in state hospitals, authorities decided to equip the temporary facilities with oxygen systems to treat seriously ill patients.

Zaev said he had ordered the health ministry to inspect all field hospitals in the country “to reduce the risk of such accidents.”

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