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Home / World / Covid-19 Rips across European countries, empty in the spring, straining hospitals

Covid-19 Rips across European countries, empty in the spring, straining hospitals

WARSAW – The second wave of cases of Covid-19 in Europe is spreading to countries that have escaped the first, health systems lack one resource without which they can not work: staff.

One of Poland’s largest hospitals in Krakow has installed enough beds and ventilators to treat the Covid-19 surge, but in recent weeks it has lost its jobs as the number of national cases doubles about every three days. Orthopedists, urologists, surgeons, neurosurgeons and gynecologists have put on scrubs to help treat coronavirus patients.

“We are a modern hospital, very well equipped,” said Martin Edrychowski, director of the University Hospital in Krakow. “But it doesn’t matter when you’re facing a shortage of staff.”


The first wave of Europe has been hit hardest in some of its richest places – northern Italy, Switzerland and France – but the second is threatening to break through countries less equipped to fight ahead. Prior to the pandemic in Poland, where generations of emigrants moving west live, the EU had the lowest ratio of health workers to citizens: 237 workers for every 100,000 people, according to a 2018 Eurostat survey.

The second wave

The number of cases is increasing in Central European countries that were previously uncommon in the pandemic, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Covid-19 cases per million people confirmed daily, moving average over 7 days

The outbreak is now growing faster than beds can be made and equipped. In the western Polish city of Charnkow, workers were still building the walls of the Covid-19 ward when the first ambulances appeared with patients in need of oxygen.

The trend has been reversed since spring, when Central and Eastern Europe was one of the fastest regions in the world, introducing draconian measures to slow the spread of the virus. In March, the Czech Republic was one of the first countries in Europe to block and require the wearing of a mask. Hungary, Slovakia and Poland quickly followed suit, closing borders and closing schools much earlier than richer countries such as Britain and France.

The medical staff treats patients with coronavirus in the intensive care unit of Slani Hospital in the Czech Republic.


David Sherney / Reuters

Over the past two weeks, the Czech Republic has been one of Europe’s most affected countries per capita, with almost 10,000 people tested positive in an 11 million country on Thursday. On Thursday, his government said there would be no room left in hospitals until the end of the month, and called on the military to build a field clinic in Prague’s conference hall.

“We need to build additional capacity as soon as possible,” Czech Prime Minister Andrei Babis told reporters on Thursday. “We do not have time. The prognosis is bad. “

The changing geography of the pandemic in Europe shows how countries that have been able to block quickly do not always do the finer work of testing and tracking the thousands of infected people and those they have detected. The Czech Republic was one of the first in Europe to create a technological system for tracking contacts, but this system fell apart as the number of cases increased. Hungary faces a shortage of trials, while test centers in the Polish capital, Warsaw, face delays of several days.

Epidemiologists have said that there are wider setbacks in society, including complacency among the population, which was damaged the worst in the first wave of Europe. The Czechs shook hands and packed into Prague bars until September. Hundreds of Poles have protested against the wearing of masks, with some claiming that the pandemic was a conspiracy to make money by drug manufacturers. At a hospital in the Polish city of Wroclaw, visibly ill patients who had undergone Covid-19 refused to wear masks and shouted at staff, the doctor said.

“This is a consequence of the really good situation we have,” said Oleksandra Brazhynova, an epidemiologist at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. “A lot of people will say, ‘Why are you trying to scare us?’ Kovid is not such a bad thing. I don’t know anyone who would be positive. “

Governments here, as elsewhere in Europe, are reluctant to repeat the kinds of blockades they imposed in the spring. In March, the Polish government imposed one of the toughest nationwide blockades and even postponed the presidential election for a month from May to June. But he softened the measures after the incumbent won, and has since been reluctant to impose even modest controls.

Medical staff conducts Covid-19 tests in Warsaw.


piotr nowak / Shutterstock

This is slowly changing. Over the past three weeks, Poland has gradually declared many of its major cities “red zones” with restrictions on fees and commercial activities. From Saturday in Warsaw, gyms will have to be closed, classes in high school will be held online, bars will close at 21:00, and weddings will be banned. On Friday, the Poles hurried to arrange a wedding in the cobbled Warsaw quarter before the rules came into force. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have imposed similar restrictions.

More about Covid Battle in Europe

Meanwhile, the results of the cases take their toll on the staff. By August 20, only four doctors and three nurses had been infected with the virus in the Czech Republic, according to the country’s Institute of Medical Information and Statistics. Since then, 259 doctors and 433 nurses have tested positive.

At the Wrocław Clinic of Infectious Diseases and Hepatology, the nurses left their shifts and never returned. The staff has retired.

“Now the epidemic is raging and we have largely lost control of it,” said Dr. Krzysztof Simon. “Patients will need resuscitation ventilators and there will be no one to take care of them. Because it’s not about the equipment, but who should operate the fans? “

Write Drew Hinshaw at drew.hinshaw@wsj.com

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