Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

The mortuary in Romania’s main hospital no longer has room for the dead. In a stark illustration of the human cost of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, bodies of COVID-19 victims, wrapped in black plastic bags, lie next to a corridor of the hospital in the capital, Bucharest.

Hundreds of people have been dying every day in Romania for the past two months. The country has been hit hardest by the current virus outbreak raging through Central and Eastern European countries, where far fewer people have been vaccinated than in Western Europe.

With a population of 19 million, Romania currently has one of the highest death rates in Europe. Last month, the World Health Organization sent a team to help with the country’s pandemic response.

Frustrated and overworked, Romania’s doctors struggled to cope.

“A village disappears daily in Romania!” panting Catalin Cirstoiu, the head of the Bucharest University Emergency Hospital. “What about in a week or a month? A bigger town? Or a city? Where do we stop? ”

Experts blame the rising deaths on the low vaccination rate in Romania, where about 40 percent of the population is fully vaccinated – well below the European Union’s average of 75 percent.

The low rates here and elsewhere in the region are believed to be the result of a general mistrust in the authorities and institutions, education gaps and deep-rooted anti-vaccination movements, which even includes some top doctors.

“We are financially exhausted – physically and psychologically,” Cirstoiu complained.

He insisted that “if 70 percent of the population had been vaccinated, we would not have had a fourth wave.”

A member of the medical staff handles a syringe at the COVID-19 ward of the University Emergency Hospital in Bucharest, Romania [Vadim Ghirda/AP]

At the hospital, even an emergency room has been converted into a COVID-19 area, sealed by a plastic sheet. On the days when the admissions get high, newly arrived patients were forced to lie on stretchers in the hallways before they could get a bed.

On Monday, hospital staff in protective gear rushed through a sprawling ward to care for the patients, many of whom were lying in their beds with oxygen masks tight on their faces. A woman sitting on her bed rested her head, wrapped in a pink traditional scarf, on her hand.

Romania recorded its highest daily death toll from the pandemic on November 2, when 591 COVID-19 deaths were reported – more than 90 percent of them unvaccinated. Currently, 1,870 COVID-19 patients across the country are receiving intensive care, nearly 51,000 people with coronavirus have died since the onset of the outbreak.

The situation forced the authorities two weeks ago to impose stricter restrictions, making vaccination certificates mandatory for various daily activities, such as going to the gym, the cinema or a shopping mall. Authorities have also imposed a nationwide 22:00 curfew.

As the restrictions took hold, Romania’s failed vaccination campaign was visible when schools resumed Monday after an extended fall holiday, with more than 30 percent of classes being forced online due to low vaccination rates at some schools.

Cirstoiu blames the low level of vaccination on general mistrust among the public and a lack of meaningful education and clear campaigns explaining the benefits. Cristoiu described the current virus boom as “the wave of the unvaccinated”.

Seen through a plastic sheet, a member of the medical staff looks at COVID-19 positive patients at the waiting area of ​​the University Emergency Hospital, converted into a COVID-19 ward, in Bucharest, Romania [Vadim Ghirda/AP]

While the latest tightening of rules in Romania has led to a slight drop in the daily number of infections and deaths – officials announced on Tuesday that 487 COVID-19 patients had died in the previous 24 hours – doctors have warned that they remain overwhelming and probably will not diminish any time soon. .

Dr Maria Sajin, head of the university clinic’s mortuary, said although the hospital would normally have an average of 10 deaths daily, the death toll reached 26 on Monday, of which 14 were COVID-19 patients. Last week, there were 35 deaths in one day, she said.

Powerless in the face of increasing deaths, the mortuary staff was devastated that the victims included people as young as 20 or 25. Shouts from family members invited to identify the bodies of their loved ones echoed through the corridors as funeral service workers prepared the coffins. funerals.

“Their families do not understand how they became so ill, and the big problem is that they also do not understand that they have to be vaccinated, that there is no medicine,” Sajin said. “These are very difficult times, no one understands that vaccines save lives.”

Funeral directors drag a coffin on a trolley as they arrive at the University Emergency Hospital morgue to take a COVID-19 victim to a funeral in Bucharest [Vadim Ghirda/AP]

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