Health

The COVID-19 pandemic is tearing apart Eastern Europe, making it one of the world’s worst hotspots

fr24news-A flower sits next to memorial stones honoring COVID-19 victims on Margaret Island in Budapest, the Hungarian capital, on April 6. Hospitalization rates in Hungary have reached record levels in recent weeks.

Bernadett Szabo / Reuters

The pandemic in Eastern Europe has never been worse.

The region experienced the first wave a year ago with relatively minor damage compared to Western Europe. But the second and third waves turned out to be much more cruel, with intensive care units in some countries, including Hungary and Poland, close to breaking point.

Statistics from the World Health Organization and Our World in Data show COVID-19 infection and death rates in much of Eastern Europe, although slightly below their peaks of March, are among the highest in the world and far exceed those of the European Union as a whole.

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The region has had little success with the newer variants, most notably the highly contagious and possibly deadliest variant first associated with Britain, B.1.1.7, although the vaccine rollout is picking up steam. magnitude.

“These are the worst days of the pandemic that we are going through,” Polish Minister of Health Adam Niedzielski said last week in a television interview.

The number of patients on ventilators in Poland is at its highest since the start of the European pandemic at the end of February 2020. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health recorded 3,342 patients on ventilators, against 2,823 on March 27 – an increase of 18%. . There were 638 deaths on Wednesday alone, a near-record.

The number of hospitalizations in Hungary has also set records in recent weeks.

New COVID-19 cases confirmed every day

Seven-day moving average per million people

the globe and the mail, Source: our world in data

New cases of COVID-19 confirmed every day

Seven-day moving average per million people

the globe and the mail, Source: our world in data

New COVID-19 cases confirmed every day

Seven-day moving average per million people

the globe and the mail, Source: our world in data

On April 6, at least nine countries in Eastern Europe recorded seven-day average daily infections per million people, well ahead of the EU’s 331, according to Our World in Data. Serbia was the highest, at 753, followed by Hungary (720) and Poland (633). The moving average in Romania (278) is increasing rapidly but remains below the EU average.

The equivalent figure in Great Britain, where the vaccination rate is the highest among major European countries, was only 52; Canada was 180 years old.

Measured by the number of confirmed deaths per million population, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Slovenia were near the highest in the world, with Hungary leading when measured by a seven-day moving average . As of Wednesday, Hungary had recorded more than 22,400 dead.

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Health workers treat a critical patient in an intensive care unit in Bochnia, Poland on March 26. Polish hospitals struggled over the Easter weekend with a surge in new infections.

Omar Marques / The Associated Press

Customers sit outside a Belgrade cafe on April 5 after Serbia eased restrictions on COVID-19 despite a high number of infections and a slowdown in vaccinations.

Darko Vojinovic / The associated press

Eastern Europe went through the first months of the pandemic relatively unscathed. Realizing that its hospital systems were not as robust as those in Western Europe, it was locked down for fear of running out of intensive care capacity.

The restrictions were relaxed in the summer, as elsewhere in Europe, and reimposed haphazardly in mid to late fall, when the number of cases increased.

Delays in lockdowns appear to reflect political considerations in some countries.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis waited until the end of local elections in early October before tightening restrictions.

Poland has sent mixed messages, acknowledging the dangerous increase in cases, but allowing ski vacations over the Christmas holidays and keeping churches open during Easter.

Recently, several Eastern European countries, including Serbia and Romania, have seen massive protests against the lockdown, in part reflecting a lack of trust in governments and institutions.

Prime Ministers Viktor Orban, right, and Matteusz Morawiecki, Poland, center, meet with former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini earlier this month.

Laszlo Balogh / The Associated Press

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban downplayed the life-saving value of lockdowns even as the country’s pandemic grew disastrous. On March 31, he said in an interview with state television that “locks or brakes can only slow its spread, but they cannot stop it.”

Hungary’s pandemic strategy, like that of Serbia, focuses on the rapid deployment of vaccines, including those that have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency, the EU regulator (Serbia is not part of the EU). In January, Hungary became the first EU country to approve Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. In March, it approved Chinese product CanSino Biologics. It will also use Covishield, the Indian version of the AstraZeneca shot.

The vaccine rollout in Hungary has been the fastest in the EU, with the exception of little Malta. As of Wednesday, it had administered the first of two doses to 24.9% of its population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker – almost double the rate in the EU. Mr Orban said the fast pace will guarantee Hungarians a “free summer”.

Hungary’s purchase of vaccines not approved by the EMA was largely driven by the slow pace of deployment in the EU, where supply shortages have plagued, especially for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“In Europe, Hungary has led the way in accessing vaccines, looking at both China and Russia and rightly taking its fate in its own hands,” said Pierre Morgon of MRGN Advisors, a Swiss consultancy firm. in biotechnology and vaccines.

Serbia also hopes that a rapid deployment will end its pandemic. Its vaccination rate is only slightly lower than that of Hungary. He also bought the Sputnik vaccine, as well as the Chinese product Sinopharm. At the end of March, he invited foreigners to come to Serbia for free doses that would otherwise have expired. The country is also in talks with Russia and China to produce their vaccines at a local virology institute.

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Stones are found at the Margaret Island Memorial. Some 20,000 pebbles are lined up along the side of the road to commemorate the victims of COVID-19.

ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP via Getty Images

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