The Macedonian public remains in the dark about the horrific tragedy that struck the modular Covid hospital in Tetovo yesterday evening. After hours of uncertainty, this morning prosecutors informed there were 14 casualties in the fire – all or almost all of them Covid patients who were hospitalized and receiving oxygen in the hospital, and 12 injured patients and staff.

Only Tetovo Mayor Teuta Arifi would speak to the press after a meeting of the top Government officials who rushed to Tetovo, and she insisted that more information will be shared only after the investigation has been completed.

In absence of official reports, local media described the tragic scene as families rushed to the medical center to look for their loved ones. Saso Trajcevski, deputy commander of the Tetovo firefighting brigade, said that the call was made at 21h, and immediately seven vehicles were dispatched to site. They came across a huge blaze ripping through the modular hospital.

It’s built of plastic and styrofoam, the fire was spreading extremely fast, of course, with the oxygen tanks adding to it, Trajcevski said. He also blamed the notorious traffic congestion in Tetovo for the fact that the fire trucks could not get to the hospital quickly enough.

Shocked doctors and nurses told the press they had mere minutes to evacuate what patients they could. In some instances, visiting relatives carried their sick family members from the hospital, and some said they tried to come back to carry more people out, but couldn’t from the intensity of the fire. Trajcevski said that the firefighters were risking their lives while extinguishing the fire, and managed to put it out in 40 minutes, while carrying people out on their hospital beds.

The sick were mostly in moderate condition from Covid, as the most severe cases are transported for treatment to Skopje, but hooked to oxygen supply and it’s unclear how many of them were able to try to flee the fire. Witnesses described explosions moving from room to room, presumably as the fire caught up with the oxygen tanks, and one particularly horrific video shows screams coming from the hospital.

Tetovo is ground zero for the current large wave of the coronavirus epidemic, after many from the diaspora used the summer and the relaxed travel regime to come to the city to see friends and relatives. It had by far the highest infection rate per capita in the country and about 2,000 active cases. Because of this the Covid ward in the brick and mortar general hospital could not accommodate all the patients, and many had to be moved to the “plastic” modular hospital whose construction was plagued with a number of reported issues with construction, and was only put in use this spring, during the previous large wave of the illness.

Some outlets reported that there were between 20 and 30 patients in the modular hospital at the time of the fire, and unspecified numbers of relatives and medical staff, but there is still no confirmation from the Healthcare Ministry or other local or Government officials. The hospitals were built by a company owned by former Deputy Prime Minister Koco Angusev, in an urgently awarded contract that was criticized as untransparent. Such modular hospitals were placed next to medical centers in Skopje and a dozen cities across the country.