Central Europe's hospitals slammed, can't treat all in need

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FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 12, 2021 file photo, medical workers move a COVID-19 patient at a hospital overrun by the COVID-19 pandemic in Cheb, Czech Republic. The coronavirus pandemic is unleashing enormous suffering as infection rates rise across central Europe even as the Czech Republic and Slovakia recently among the worst-hit areas in the world are finally seeing some improvements following tight lockdowns. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)

WARSAW – Poland recorded its highest daily number of new coronavirus infections Wednesday as hospitals buckle under a new surge. Hungary has the highest per capita death rate in the world. And Romanian doctors are working around the clock and having to decide who does — and doesn't — get a bed in an intensive care unit.

The coronavirus pandemic is unleashing enormous suffering as infection rates rise across central Europe even as the Czech Republic and Slovakia — recently among the worst-hit areas in the world — are finally seeing some improvements following tight lockdowns.

In Poland, officials say this “third wave” of the pandemic is driven by the highly contagious virus variant first detected in Britain, which now makes up most of the new cases. The country's vaccine rollout is happening far too slowly to hold back this powerful wave of illness and deaths.

With 38 million people, Poland announced 575 new deaths on Wednesday and nearly 30,000 new infections — surpassing a record for new cases set in November.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, warning that the worst is yet to come, said the country will have even stricter restrictions for a two-week period before and after Easter. This comes with the country already in a nationwide lockdown that has closed nonessential shops and sent all school children into remote learning.

Poland's health care system is under greater pressure now than at any time in the pandemic. Polish media this week have reported on hospitals so overwhelmed that they are forced to put extra beds in corridors. Maternity wards have been suddenly turned into COVID-19 wards, forcing women to change plans for where they will be giving birth. At least one hospital director has banned staff from taking vacations.

Ambulances in Poland have been waiting for hours in front of hospitals to unload their patients or have had to transport patients to distant facilities.

Morawiecki said younger people — those under 50 and even some under 40 — are making up a larger share of those hospitalized than ever before. Among them now is 49-year-old Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who unsuccessfully challenged President Andrzej Duda in an election last year.