‘I was in hell’: Fourth virus wave rips through the state of Romania

Saturday October 09 2021
Virus pic

Hospital personnel provide medical assistance to a Covid-19 patient inside the mobile intensive care unit of the “Pneumophysiology Institute Prof Dr Marius Nasta” in Bucharest, on October 7, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO | AFP

By GUEST COLUMNISTS

I was in hell, 43-year-old Romanian taxi driver Bogdan Gavanescu says, while recounting his two-month battle against the coronavirus from his hospital bed in Bucharest.

One of the poorest countries in the EU and with one of the bloc’s weakest vaccination campaigns against the virus, Romania is suffering from a spike in deaths from the virus as a “catastrophic” fourth wave takes hold.

“I had to be ventilated and I was eventually brought back to life,” says Gavanescu, who admits he “didn’t believe” in the existence of the virus before catching it.

Doctors can be seen rushing between the beds laid out in the corridors of the Matei Bals hospital, which they say is at “110 percent” occupancy.

“If the current flow (of patients) continues, in one or two days the health system will collapse because we already don’t have enough place to accommodate the sick,” says hospital director Catalin Apostolescu.

“It’s hell in intensive care units across the country and the situation is just getting worse,” says Dorel Sandesc, a senior doctor at a large hospital in the western city of Timisoara and president of the Romanian Society of Anaesthetists.

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‘Italy scenario’

At several hospitals in Bucharest and the northeastern city of Iasi, queues of ambulances have been waiting outside hospitals for beds to become available, according to media reports and posts on social networks.

Often ICU beds only become free because their previous occupants have died.

Thursday saw 14,457 new cases of the virus recorded within 24 hours in the country of just over 19 million inhabitants.

Figures released Friday showed the highest death toll of the entire pandemic reported in one day, with 385 people succumbing to the virus.

“I fear we are already in the Italy scenario,” said the head of the national vaccination campaign Valeriu Gheorghita, referring to the overwhelming of the healthcare system in northern Italy in March 2020 during the first wave of the virus.

Interior Minister Lucian Bode says that 1,600 Romanians are currently waiting for a place in intensive care amid what senior officials describe as a health “catastrophe”.

For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, Romania is considering transferring some 200-300 patients outside the country for treatment.


‘I was wrong’

The pandemic has added to the woes of the country’s underfunded and understaffed healthcare system.

Last week, a hospital fire killed seven patients, the third such incident in Romania in less than a year.

With even higher infection rates expected later this month, hospitals have been asked to suspend any “non urgent” operations and hospital stays.

Radu Ganescu, head of the Copac association of patients with chronic conditions, says this will amount to a “death sentence” for many.

“This decision will just lead to a new crisis, because we can’t simply cast aside millions of patients with chronic illnesses,” he said.

Romania also had to take this drastic step in March last year, with thousands of deaths among non-virus patients estimated as a result.

The reason Romania is once again having to reach for such measures is largely down to its sluggish vaccination campaign, which has seen less than a third of the eligible population fully immunised.

“A failure we are all paying the price for,” said Sandesc, the doctor.

Health experts say the government relaxed restrictions too quickly over the summer, believing the pandemic had been essentially defeated.

Now that the situation is again deteriorating, the government has brought in a vaccine passport for restaurants and public events, only for this to spark demonstrations attended by thousands last week.

Sociologists put Romanians’ low takeup of the vaccines down to mistrust of the authorities, coupled with an explosion of conspiracy theories circulating on social media.

Lucia Draghici, a patient at Matei Bals in her fifties left struggling to breathe by the virus, admits she is still “very scared” of getting the vaccine despite the effect the illness has had on her. Georgica Vieru, a 53-year old Orthodox priest, says he was “one of those who believed that the vaccine wasn’t good”.

After 29 days in hospital recovering from the virus, he’s had time to think again.

“After everything I’ve been through, I know I was wrong,” he said.

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Mihaela RODINA and Ionut IORDACHESCU filed this piece for AFP from Bucharest