Connect with us

coronavirus

Pandemic rages in Eastern Europe leaving hospitals struggling to cope

SHARE:

Published

on

Hungary’s hospitals are under “extraordinary” pressure from rising coronavirus infections, its surgeon general said on Wednesday (24 March), as the country became a hotspot in the third wave of a pandemic that has hit Central Europe especially hard, write Krisztina Than and Jan Lopatka.

Like much of the region, Hungary managed to curb infections during the initial phase of the pandemic in March-April last year with fast and strict lockdown measures.

However, a new wave of infections that has swept through the region in 2021 has seen Hungary this week overtake the Czech Republic as the country with the world’s highest daily COVID-19 deaths per capita, according to figures from Our World in Data.

Advertisement

Experts have put this down to the spread of the much more contagious virus variant first found in Britain, which accounts for most reported cases now and infects entire families.

The region is also host to many large factories where remote work has not been possible and, this time round, governments have been reluctant to quickly impose a lockdown, fearing another blow to their economies after last year’s recession.

While new infections in the Czech Republic and Slovakia have started to decline, Poland reported a record number of new cases just shy of 30,000 and the government mulled sending patients to different regions to help hospitals cope.

It ordered theatres, shopping malls, hotels and cinemas to close last week as infections rose, but more restrictions loom ahead of the Easter holidays, typically marked by packed church services in the deeply Catholic country.

In Hungary, a country with a population of nearly 10 million, a total of 18,952 people have died of coronavirus.

“I am asking you to do everything possible to avoid getting infected and avoid having to go to the hospital as hospitals are struggling under an extraordinary burden,” Surgeon General Cecilia Muller told a briefing.

Muller said about 500 volunteers - health students and skilled healthcare staff - have gone to help at hospitals after a plea went out from the government this week.

Earlier this month, about 4,000 medical workers quit the public health system over reforms begun by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, aggravating a years-long shortage of medical staff.Slideshow ( 4 images )

On Wednesday, Tamas Sved, secretary of the Hungarian Medical Chamber, told the national website that if new infections are not curbed via reduced social contact, Hungary could become the new byword for the worst of the crisis.

“Without this, we could reach the point that in Europe it will be a bigger Hungarian city and no longer Bergamo (in Italy) that is cited as a tragic example,” he said.

Hungary, which leads the EU for vaccine imports and per capita vaccination rates according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, has administered at least one vaccine dose to 1.7 million people. But it is still not enough.

“For some reason most of eastern Europe has failed in the fight against the pandemic,” said sociologist Daniel Prokop, who has been tracking Czechs’ behaviour through the pandemic.

He said in an article this week that on-site work is more common in Central Europe due to the number of factories - including large car makers - located here. This has led to rising infections.

Lower incomes also mean more people are forced to work even if that means exposing themselves or others to contagion, he said. Governments in the region pay less for sick leave than in western Europe.

After hospitalisations hit critical levels, the Czech Republic introduced a harsher lockdown on March 1 and implemented widespread testing at work places. It has since seen some improvement in case numbers.

Czech Prime Mister Andrej Babis admitted mistakes after criticism the government was slow to introduce restrictions in the autumn when numbers soared previously.

In Hungary, however, Prime Minister Orban is already discussing with business options for cautiously reopening shops, even as cases rise. The government will decide on measures for Easter soon. All schools are in remote learning until 7 April.

coronavirus

Norway again postpones end to COVID lockdown

Published

on

By

A man wearing a protective mask carries shopping bags as he walks on the streets of Oslo following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Oslo, Norway. NTB Scanpix/Hakon Mosvold Larsen via REUTERS

Norway postponed for a second time on Wednesday (28 July) a planned final step in the reopening of its economy from pandemic lockdown, due to the continued spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, the government said, writes Terje Solsvik, Reuters.

"A new assessment will be made in mid-August," Health Minister Bent Hoeie told a news conference.

Advertisement

Measures that will be kept in place to halt the spread of COVID-19 include bars and restaurants being limited to table service and limits of 20 people on gatherings in private homes.

The government in April launched a four-step plan to gradually remove most pandemic restrictions, and had completed the first three of those steps by mid-June.

On July 5, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said the fourth step could come in late July or early August at the earliest because of concerns about the Delta coronavirus variant. Read more.

About 80% of adults in Norway have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 41% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Thanks to an early lockdown in March 2020 and tight restrictions that followed, the nation of 5.4 million people has seen one of Europe's lowest rates of mortality from the virus. Some 800 Norwegians have died from COVID-19.

Continue Reading

coronavirus

EU signs deal with GSK for supply of potential COVID drug

Published

on

By

Company logo of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is seen at their Stevenage facility, Britain October 26, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Childs/File Photo

The European Union has signed a contract with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) for the supply of up to 220,000 treatments of its investigational monoclonal antibody therapy sotrovimab against COVID-19, it said on Wednesday (28 July), write Francesco Guarascio with additional reporting by Jo Mason, Reuters.

The drug, which is developed together with U.S. firm Vir Biotechnology (VIR.O), can be used for the treatment of high-risk coronavirus patients with mild symptoms who do not require supplemental oxygen, according to the Commission.

The deal is a boost to GSK work on potential treatments for COVID-19 after the company played a limited role in the development of vaccines. Rather than making its own coronavirus shot, GSK has focused on supplying its booster to other developers and has partnered with Sanofi (SASY.PA) to develop a jab.

Advertisement

GSK confirmed the deal in a statement on Wednesday, saying it represented "a crucial step forward for treating cases of COVID-19" in Europe.

The drug is currently being assessed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) under a rolling review.

It has received emergency authorisation in the United States to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients who are at high risk of developing a severe infection.

The contract has been backed by 16 of the 27 EU states, which can buy the drug only after it is approved by EMA or by national drug regulators. The price agreed for potential purchases has not been disclosed. A spokesman for the Commission declined to comment on the matter.

Monoclonal antibodies mimic natural antibodies that the body generates to fight infection.

The deal with GSK follows a contract the EU signed in April with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche (ROG.S) to secure about 55,000 doses of a potential treatment based on a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies developed by Roche together with U.S. drugmaker Regeneron (REGN.O). Read more.

Apart from monoclonal treatments, the only other anti-COVID drug the EU has bought is Gilead's (GILD.O) remdesivir, an antiviral medicine. Last year, the EU reserved half a million courses after the drug obtained a conditional EU approval.

Continue Reading

coronavirus

Coronavirus disinformation: Online platforms take new actions and call for more players to join the Code of Practice

Published

on

The Commission has published the reports by Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Microsoft and Google on measures taken in June to combat coronavirus disinformation. The current signatories and the Commission are also calling on new companies to join the Code of Practice on disinformation as it will help broaden its impact and make it more effective. Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová said: “The COVID-19 disinformation monitoring programme has allowed to keep track of important actions put in place by online platforms. With new variants of the virus spreading and vaccinations continuing at full speed, it is crucial to deliver on the commitments. We look forward to the strengthening of the Code of Practice.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added: “The EU stood by its promise to deliver enough doses to safely vaccinate every EU citizen. All stakeholders now need to assume their responsibility to beat vaccine hesitancy spurred by disinformation. While we are strengthening the Code of Practice with platforms and signatories, we are calling for new signatories to join the fight against disinformation”. 

For example, TikTok's campaign supporting vaccination, with the Irish government, reached over one million views and over 20,000 likes. Google continued to work with public health authorities to show information about vaccination locations in Google Search and Maps, a feature available in France, Poland, Italy, Ireland, and Switzerland. On Twitter, users can now train automated systems to better identify violations of the platform's COVID-19 disinformation policy.

Advertisement

Microsoft extended its partnership with NewsGuard, an Edge extension that warns about websites spreading disinformation. Facebook cooperated with international health authorities to increase public awareness of vaccine efficacy and safety and with Michigan State University (MSU) researchers to better detect and attribute deepfakes. These joint efforts need to continue in view of the persisting and complex challenges that online disinformation still presents. The Commission's COVID-19 disinformation monitoring programme has been extended until the end of 2021 and reports will now be published every two months. The next set of reports will be published in September. Following the recently published Guidance, the signatories have kicked off the process to strengthen the Code and launched a joint call for interest for potential new signatories.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending