BRUSSELS- Across Europe, medical systems are teetering. The virus is spreading so quickly in so many places that even countries whose hospitals are relatively unscathed so far could be swamped within weeks. In Belgium, overall coronavirus-related hospitalizations on Thursday broke the April record, as did the number of people in intensive care units.
But the April peak came after weeks of a strict lockdown. This time, the lockdown is far less strict and was imposed just days ago. Cases are rocketing upward so fast that although hospital beds dedicated to covid-19 patients were 68 percent filled on Thursday, they will be completely full by Tuesday if current rates hold. Intensive care beds – where access can be a matter of life or death – can last only a little longer.
“Our intensive care capacity will be exceeded within a week to 10 days. We will then be forced to make choices,” the heads of some of Belgium’s biggest hospital networks wrote in an open letter on Thursday, pleading with the country’s leaders to impose a full lockdown.
In France, where cases have been skyrocketing, “we are going to have two to three extremely difficult weeks for the healthcare system,” Jean-François Delfraissy, the head of the scientific council that advises the French government on the pandemic, told France Inter radio on Thursday.
“We can’t allow it to crack. We are in a worse situation than in the beginning of March.”On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that “at this stage, we know that whatever we do, nearly 9,000 patients will be in intensive care by mid-November, which is almost the entirety of French capacities.”
Germany cited shrinking ICU bed space as it announced sweeping restrictions in social contacts and said bars, restaurants, theaters and cinemas will close for a month.
The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care has doubled in just ten days, Chancellor Angela Merkel said as she briefed parliament on the restrictions on Thursday.
“If we were to wait for our ICUs to be overwhelmed, it would be too late,” she said. Including emergency reserves, Germany’s intensive care beds are currently half full.
But at current growth rates, they will be completely full within five weeks, which is what helped spur Merkel to impose the new restrictions on Wednesday.
In central Europe, where some of the fasting spreading outbreaks in the world are now occurring, governments are ringing alarm bells about hospital beds.Both Poland and the Czech Republic have build impromptu field hospitals to ease the strain, even though both health care systems had avoided being overwhelmed by covid-19 during the spring.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Thursday that there were currently 14,000 beds occupied with covid-19 patients across the country — far exceeding the 10,000 beds that had been available for the outbreak at the start of October and showing the need for more beds in field hospitals considerably.
“There are more and more patients lying on beds in hospitals all over Poland,” Morawiecki said, according to the Polish Press Agency. With the field hospitals, the hope is to have as many as 32,000 beds by the end of next week.
The problem extends past beds. On Thursday, Czech Republic lawmakers approved a measure to allow up to 300 military medics from allied nations to come aid the fight, including at least 28 members of the Texas and Nebraska National Guard.
The Czech government has also received over 200 ventilators from allies, according to a NATO statement released on Tuesday.
Adam Taylor contributed reporting.