Officials in the Czech Republic have warned the country’s healthcare system is on the verge of “utter exhaustion” and may need help from abroad, as central Europe braces for a third wave of coronavirus pandemic.
In the past two weeks, the country has recorded 968 new cases of coronavirus per 100,000 population, the highest infection rate in the EU in per capita terms, forcing many hospitals to delay treatment unrelated to Covid.
Vladimir Cerny, deputy health minister, told a press conference on Tuesday that if the trend continued, the capacity of hospitals would be exceeded within two to three weeks, and said the government was considering asking to other EU states to welcome patients.
“We are starting to talk about aid from abroad. So far the only official offer came from Germany, which offered a place for nine patients, ”said Cerny. “The current free capacity of hospitals in the Czech Republic is around 15%.”
Cerny’s warning comes amid wider concerns in central Europe about a pickup in the number of cases in the region, accompanied in some countries by the arrival of the variant that first emerged in the UK.
Slovakia – where a day-long screening exercise earlier this month found the strain to be responsible for 74% of new cases – suffered the highest number of Covid-19 deaths per capita in the world during the last week.
Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok said on Monday that he would ask other EU countries to send additional vaccines to Slovakia to help it cope with the “tragic” situation in the 5-country country, 4 million dead, where the death toll has exceeded 100 a day on several occasions in the past two weeks.
“I realize that other countries also have a shortage of vaccines, but Slovakia now, also based on the fact that we have the highest death rate, needs it most at the moment,” said he told reporters in Brussels, according to Reuters.
In Poland, where new variants now represent 10% of new infections, the authorities are considering stricter rules on wearing a mask and tighter border controls.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski warned on Monday that Poland was facing “more or less a month of uninterrupted increases [in case numbers]», And that the third wave would not peak until the end of March or the beginning of April.
“So far, prognosis suggests that the peak of this third wave will be on average between 10,000 and 12,000 cases per day, which, from the point of view of the health system itself, is a number we faced, ”he told TVN24, adding that“ it’s a scenario with a big question mark attached ”.
Hungary has also seen a sharp increase in the number of new cases, with infection rates in the past seven days 50 percent higher than in the past seven. Deaths have also increased.
Hungary’s chief medical officer Cecilia Muller said the ebb of the second wave in central Europe was disrupted by the arrival of the third, meaning the last wave “was starting from a higher level” than its predecessor.
During her daily press briefing, she warned that the “very virulent British variant” was present in Hungary and warned that “the possibility of an asymptomatic infection is much more dangerous”.
Budapest is hoping that an aggressive vaccination campaign – assisted by 5 million doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, which begins delivery on Wednesday – will help slow the rate of infection.
Hungary was the first EU country to approve the Sinopharm vaccine, with Sputnik V, the jab developed by a Russian investment fund. The country’s right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban said he would take the Chinese vaccine because it was the one he “trusted the most.”
The surge in infections in central Europe has also raised concerns in neighboring countries. Germany tightened border controls with the Czech Republic and Austria last week in an effort to stem the spread of new cases.