Europe is currently going through a new upward trend in new cases of COVID-19, but the situation is not homogeneous: it is deteriorating particularly in several countries in the east of the continent. The two with the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union, Romania and Bulgaria, are witnessing an increase in infections that is translating into high numbers of deaths, with overburdened healthcare systems contributing to the perfect storm for the current wave. of the virus, which leaves high levels of hospitalization.
Deaths from COVID-19 are also on the rise in other countries such as Serbia, Russia and Ukraine. Per capita incidences are still very high in the Baltic nations, led by Latvia, which has had to take tough measures, although its immunization rate is not as low as that of some of its neighbors.RELATED
There are countries in Western Europe in which infections are also growing strongly, such as Belgium or Austria, but, for now, this increase is not being noticed so much in mortality, according to the analysis of elDiario.es, based on data from Johns Hopkins University, which depends on the number of tests performed.
The European immunization map shows a clear gap between west and east. Here, the green color that marks the level of vaccination coverage becomes lighter. Experts attribute the slowness of immunization in this band of countries to several factors, including the distrust of the population.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has explained that the general rebound in the number of cases in Europe is mainly due to the fact that restrictions have been lifted, there is more social interaction and this coincides with the arrival of colder weather, when the People’s behavior changes as they move more indoors.
In statements to elDiario.es, a spokesman for the European branch of the WHO also mentions the delta variant, “highly transmissible and dominant in the region” and the unequal compliance with measures known to reduce transmission, such as the use of mask in crowded spaces, which can make it easier for the virus to circulate.
The question now is whether the transmission turns into serious cases, hospitalizations and deaths, and the way to avoid it is to ensure that, above all, people from high-risk groups are adequately vaccinated, insisted the director of Health Emergencies of the WHO, Mike Ryan. The difference between having an intense transmission with some cases of hospitalizations and deaths and having hospitalizations and deaths on a large scale associated with the pressure on the health system is reduced to vaccination, to deliver the doses and to make the population increase its demand for those vaccines, he said.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned at the end of September that countries are still They have not reached a sufficiently high vaccination coverage and, who plan to relax the measures, run a high risk of experiencing a significant increase in cases, hospitalizations and mortality until the end of November.
Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva, points out to this media that “the lack of trust in the authorities seems to be the main cause of the strong and devastating waves that are currently hitting the entire east of Europe, including the Balkans “. This, he indicates, has consequences in terms of vaccination coverage, which is much lower than in Western Europe, where it exceeds 70%, but also in “the more general lack of compliance with the preventive measures recommended by health authorities and The experts”.
Romania is going through its worst moments of the pandemic, with a virulent wave that leaves levels of cases and deaths that exceed all the previous ones. The health system is so under pressure that the government Romanian has been forced to suspend non-essential hospitalizations and has transferred COVID patients to countries like Hungary. The flood of income caused by this wave has left many hospitals without space. The media collect how many health centers they have run out of beds to care for patients.
Deaths are reaching record figures and much higher than those of other European neighbors, with just over 20 daily deaths per million inhabitants, a number almost ten times higher, for example, than the United Kingdom, which is also registering very high incidences. of infections today.
The difference is that in Romania vaccination levels now stand at a third, just over 30%, of the total population (and less than 40% of adults) with complete guideline. It is the second lowest rate in the European Union after neighboring Bulgaria. As reported by Reuters, more than 90% of coronavirus deaths have been in unvaccinated people.
President Klaus Iohannis, who has said that the country is suffering “a real catastrophe”, has attacked against misinformation and conspiracy theories circulating on the Internet. There are also marked inequalities within the country, particularly for those who live in rural areas with poor infrastructure. Other factors are also mentioned, such as deep-rooted mistrust in institutions.
Experts accuse the authorities of having relaxed restrictions too early, in June. Then, the political leaders proclaimed victory. The new wave has forced some measures: those who do not have a COVID passport cannot go out at night throughout the national territory. This is an attempt to tighten the fence for the unvaccinated, who will not be able to enter most public places without a certificate, such as restaurants and non-essential shops, which also have to close at 9:00 p.m.
The situation is similar in neighboring Bulgaria. Infections are at record highs, the death rate is one of the highest in the block along with Romania’s, and hospitals across the country are struggling to cope with the influx of coronavirus patients amidst the shortage of medical personnel.
Experts link the rapid worsening of the epidemiological situation to the fact that more than 75% of the population is not vaccinated. Just over 21% of Bulgarians (about 26% of adults) have applied the full course, the lowest immunization rate in the EU. Specialists have attributed this low figure to the low trust of citizens in the institutions, along with misinformation, political instability, contradictory messages and a weak national vaccination campaign. Vaccine reluctance has long been a problem, some voices say.
After calls for stricter measures, the authorities have recently tightened restrictions to deal with the new wave. The Government has introduced the mandatory COVID certificate to enter entertainment venues. Hundreds of people have protested in Sofia and other cities in the country against government measures.
The restrictions appear to be working in both Romania and Bulgaria, the poorest countries in the EU, whose vaccination rates are showing signs of increasing.
The Baltic countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, are currently registering very high incidences per inhabitant, which are among the highest in the world.
Latvia, whose vaccination rate is higher than those of Romania and Bulgaria but is among the lowest in the bloc (about half the population is vaccinated), has seen a strong rebound of infections and hospitalizations of COVID patients. To face the worsening, it has decreed closure measures and a night curfew until mid-November. “Our healthcare system is in danger. The only way out of this crisis is to get vaccinated,” Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said.
In Ukraine, cases and deaths are also at record levels, with about 13 COVID deaths per day per million inhabitants. Faced with the worsening epidemic situation, the Ukrainian authorities have tightened restrictions in several regions.
One of the poorest countries on the continent lagged behind its neighbors in purchasing vaccines at the beginning of the year. Now, like other eastern countries, it is struggling to persuade a generally skeptical population to immunize itself. Only 16% of citizens are fully inoculated, and a burgeoning market for fake vaccination certificates has emerged. The country’s health system is under considerable strain.
Several Balkan countries are also registering high incidences, particularly Slovenia and Serbia. Deaths are on the rise in the latter country, where only 34% of the population has been fully vaccinated and experts are calling for stricter measures to curb the virus. The Government has made the COVID certificate mandatory for those who want to go to bars and restaurants at night. Vaccine acceptance has slowed since JuneThis is attributed to a combination of poor government communication and skeptics prominently featured in the media.
In Russia, the daily death toll is also reaching highs since the start of the pandemic. Faced with this deterioration, the Russian authorities have decreed a week of non-working days from October 30 to November 7. The government has attributed the rapid spread of the virus and the increase in deaths to low immunization rates. Only about a third of the country’s people are fully vaccinated in a country that has supplies, but citizens have been slow to get vaccinated.