Covid-19 tears apart European countries spared in spring, straining hospitals

WARSAW — A second wave of Covid-19 cases in Europe is unleashed in countries that escaped the first, as health systems run out of the only resource they cannot function without: staff.

One of Poland’s largest hospitals, in the city of Krakow, has installed enough beds and ventilators to treat a wave of Covid-19 patients, but has started to run out of workers in recent weeks as the number of national cases doubled about every three days. Orthopedists, urologists, surgeons, neurosurgeons and gynecologists have donned scrubs to help treat people with coronavirus.

“We are a modern, very well-equipped hospital,” said Marcin Jędrychowski, director of the University Hospital in Krakow. “But none of that matters when you start to face a staff shortage.”

Europe’s first wave hit hardest in some of its wealthiest places – northern Italy, Switzerland and France – but the second threatens to devastate countries less equipped for the struggle to come. Before the pandemic, Poland – home to generations of emigrants to the west – had the lowest ratio of healthcare workers to EU citizens: 237 workers per 100,000 people, study finds of 2018 from Eurostat.

Now there is an epidemic that is growing faster than it can have and in beds for staff. In the city of Czarnków in western Poland, workers were still building the walls of a Covid-19 ward when the first ambulances arrived with patients needing oxygen.

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