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Covid-19 cracks through European countries spared in spring, stressful hospitals

WARSAW – Another wave of Covid-19 cases in Europe are being torn down in countries that escaped the first, with health systems lacking the one resource they cannot run without: staff.

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

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


Europe’s first wave hit some of its richest places hardest – northern Italy, Switzerland and France – but the second threatens to tear through countries less equipped for the coming battle. Before the pandemic, Poland – home to generations of emigrants moving west – had the lowest ratio of health workers to European Union citizens: 237 workers for every 100,000 people, according to a 2018 Eurostat survey.

Another wave

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

Confirmed daily Covid-19 cases per. Million people, seven-day rolling average

Now it has an outbreak that is growing faster than it can lay out and staff beds. In the western Polish town of Czarnków, workers were still building the walls of a Covid-19 ward when the first ambulances appeared with patients in need of oxygen.

The trend is a reversal from the spring, when Central and Eastern Europe was one of the world’s fastest regions to introduce the draconian measures that slowed the spread of the virus. In March, the Czech Republic was one of the first nations in Europe to lock down and require mandatory mask wearing. Hungary, Slovakia and Poland followed quickly, closing borders and closing schools much faster than richer nations such as Britain and France.

Medical staff treat patients suffering from coronavirus in the intensive care unit of Slany Hospital in the Czech Republic.


david w cerny / Reuters

Over the last two weeks, the Czech Republic has been one of Europe’s hardest hit countries per capita. Population, where nearly 10,000 people tested positive Thursday in a country of 11 million. On Thursday, the government said hospitals would run out of space before the end of the month, urging the military to build a field clinic in a congress hall in Prague.

“We need to build extra capacity as soon as possible,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told reporters on Thursday. “We do not have time. The forecast is not good. ”

The changing geography of the pandemic in Europe shows how countries that were able to lock down quickly are not always effective at the more nuanced work of testing and tracking thousands of infected people and the people they have been exposed to. The Czech Republic was among Europe’s first to set up a technologically driven contact tracing system, but the system has fallen apart as the number of cases has increased. Hungary is facing a test shortage, while test centers in the Polish capital Warsaw have been facing long delays.

There have also been broader societal failures, including complacency among populations spared the worst in Europe’s first wave, epidemiologists said. The Czechs went hand in hand and packed in bars in Prague well into September. Hundreds of Poles have protested against masks, some claiming the pandemic is a conspiracy by drugmakers. At a hospital in the Polish city of Wroclaw, visibly ill Covid-19-positive patients have refused to wear masks and shouted at staff, a doctor there said.

“This is a consequence of the really good situation we had,” said Alexandra Bražinová, an epidemiologist at the University of Comenius in Bratislava, Slovakia. Many people would say, ‘Why are you trying to scare us? Covid is not such a bad thing. I know no one who would be positive. ‘”

Governments here, as elsewhere in Europe, have been reluctant to repeat the kind of interruptions they introduced in the spring. In March, the Polish government imposed one of Europe’s toughest nationwide lockdowns and even delayed a presidential election by a month from May to June. But it eased measures after the established victory had won, and has since been reluctant to reintroduce even modest controls.

Medical staff conduct Covid-19 tests in Warsaw.


piotr nowak / Shutterstock

Slowly it is changing. Over the past three weeks, Poland has gradually declared many of its major cities as “red zones” with restrictions on gatherings and commercial activity. From Saturday in Warsaw, gyms will be closed, high school classes will be held online, bars will be closed at 21 and weddings are prohibited. On Friday, the Poles hurried to hold weddings in Warsaw’s cobbled historic district before the rules came into force. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have introduced similar restrictions.

More on Europe’s Covid Battle

Meanwhile, the resulting case count takes its toll on staff. Until August 20, only four doctors and three nurses in the Czech Republic were infected with the virus, the country’s Department of Health Information and Statistics said. Since then, 259 doctors and 433 nurses have tested positive.

At the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Hepatology in Wroclaw, nurses have gone away from their shifts and have never returned. The staff is retired.

“The epidemic is raging right now, and to a large extent we have lost control of it,” said Krzysztof Simon, a doctor there. “Patients need resuscitation fans and no one is taking care of them. Because it’s not about the equipment, but who’s going to operate the fans? ”

Write to Drew Hinshaw at drew.hinshaw@wsj.com

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