Central European hospitals ravaged by coronavirus outbreaks, cannot treat all patients

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Poland recorded its highest daily toll of new coronavirus infections on Wednesday as hospitals buckle in a new wave. Hungary has the highest per capita death rate in the world. And Romanian doctors work around the clock and have to decide who has – and doesn’t – a bed in an intensive care unit.

The coronavirus pandemic is triggering enormous suffering as infection rates rise across central Europe, even as the Czech Republic and Slovakia – recently among the worst-affected regions in the world – finally see improvements after strict closures.

In Poland, officials say this “third wave” of the pandemic is due to the highly contagious viral variant first detected in Britain, which now constitutes most new cases. The rollout of the vaccine in the country is proceeding far too slowly to contain this powerful wave of disease and death.

With 38 million people, Poland on Wednesday announced 575 new deaths and nearly 30,000 new infections, surpassing the record for new cases set in November.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, warning that the worst is yet to come, said the country would have even tighter restrictions for a two-week period before and after Easter. It comes with the country already in a nationwide lockdown that has closed non-essential stores and sent all schoolchildren into distance learning.

The Polish healthcare system is under greater pressure today than at any time during the pandemic. The Polish media reported this week of hospitals so overwhelmed that they are forced to put extra beds in the hallways. Maternities have suddenly been turned into COVID-19 wards, forcing women to change their plans for where they will give birth. At least one hospital director has banned staff from taking vacations.

Ambulances in Poland have been waiting for hours outside hospitals to unload their patients or have had to transport patients to remote facilities.

Morawiecki said young people – those under 50 and even some under 40 – represent a larger share of people hospitalized than ever before. Among them today is the mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, 49, who unsuccessfully challenged President Andrzej Duda in an election last year.

In Hungary, a wave of infections has produced the highest death rate per 1 million people globally in recent days, and the daily record number of COVID-19 patients treated in hospitals has put a strain on people. country health care system.

This comes even though Hungary is among the countries in the European Union with the highest vaccination rates, thanks to its reliance on Chinese and Russian vaccines in addition to those approved by the EU.

Faced with a lack of qualified medical staff to treat the nearly 12,000 COVID-19 patients now hospitalized, Hungary has allowed medical students to come and help. Some Hungarian hospitals have also sought volunteers to help nurses and doctors in COVID-19 wards, giving training sessions to those without medical training.

“The majority of hospital wards have become COVID wards, intensive wards are exponentially overloaded, operating rooms have closed, and their ventilators are occupied by COVID patients fighting for their lives. We have no more health workers available and hospitals are looking for volunteers to help, ”wrote the Hungarian Chamber of Physicians.

In Romania, a record number of patients in intensive care units has been recorded on several consecutive days this week.

“This is the greatest pressure we have felt,” says Roxana Patulea, 28-year-old intensive care doctor at Jupiter Emergency Hospital in Ploiesti and University Emergency Hospital in Bucharest.

“Despite the vaccine, there are many more patients than in the second wave and there are no intensive care beds. It’s sad – we often have to choose patients based on criteria of severity or age, ”she told The Associated Press.

Patulea said she and her colleagues worked around the clock during this wave, snatching chunks of sleep between nightly emergencies.

Meanwhile, infections have also skyrocketed in recent weeks in many Balkan countries, which have responded by tightening lockdown restrictions. Health officials are warning that systems are so overloaded and medical workers are so exhausted after a year of extreme pressure that patients are not receiving optimal care.

“The pressure on our hospital is enormous,” said Dr Tatjana Adzic Vukicevic, who runs a newly built coronavirus facility outside of Belgrade. “It cannot be described in words, we are working extremely hard.”


Associated Press editors Justin Spike in Budapest, Hungary; Stephen McGrath in Sighisoara, Romania; Karel Janicek in Prague; and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

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