10th Dec 2023

Omicron wreaks havoc across eastern Europe

  • The eastern European region reported more than half of all Covid-19 deaths registered in Europe before Omicron - despite accounting for just 39 percent of the population (Photo: Jernej Furman)
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Just emerging from the previous wave of Covid infections, eastern European nations are again being put to the test.

Many of these EU member states plus east European nations have already recorded some of the highest pandemic mortality rates in the world. It is expected that the new Omicron variant will inflict catastrophic pressure on these countries' healthcare systems.

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  • Improvised PPE equipment in a Romanian hospital, the EU's most underfunded healthcare, during the first Covid outbreak (Photo: Romanian TV)

Coronavirus deaths in eastern Europe exceeded one million and the number is expected to rise as the Omicron variant becomes dominant in the region.

The countries Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine account for only 39 percent of Europe's total population. But - over the course of the pandemic - this region reported more than half of all Covid-19 deaths registered in Europe.

In south-east Europe, Romania is registering record-breaking daily new Covid cases.

On Thursday (20 January) the country registered over 19,000 infections in a 24-hour span. It is the highest number of daily cases the country has seen since the pandemic started. And it is certain to get much worse.

Adriana Pistol, director of the National Center for Surveillance and Control of Communicable Diseases in Romania, warned that the country could register a peak of over 25,000 new cases daily. She added that even if the Omicron strain were to be less sever the healthcare system will still be undoubtedly overwhelmed.

Romania is the second least-vaccinated member country in the EU, with only 41-percent of its population fully-immunised. Even more worrying is that around 60 percent of those aged 65 and over in Romania, or suffering from chronic diseases, remain unvaccinated.

Although booster doses are considered necessary to provide adequate protection against Omicron, specialists noted that three-quarters of those fully-vaccinated have not yet received the extra dose.

Plummeting vaccine interest in Romania comes from a long-standing mistrust in authorities, vaccine-scepticism, plus officials' poor approach in dealing with the virus. A survey carried at the end of last year showed that the majority of Romanians have little-to-no trust in the authorities.

To make matters even more complicated, Romania has EU's worst and most under-financed healthcare system, according to Euro Health Consumer Index and Eurostat.

Romania's underfunded public health system was on the verge of collapse a few months ago, during the last surge of cases in the country. Hospital morgues were full, and some patients were transferred abroad for treatment because Covid-19 intensive care units were at full capacity.

255,000 of seven million

Neighbouring Bulgaria is the least-vaccinated country in the EU, with just 28 percent of the population fully-immunised. Despite going through a wave of infections last autumn which put enormous pressure on the medical system, the country's vaccination campaign continued at a snail's pace.

Government figures show that only 255,000 booster doses were administered in a country with a population of seven million.

Bulgaria is now at around 12,000 daily cases of Covid - double the previous pandemic record of 6,000 daily cases.

The Czech Republic is also hitting a new record, of close to 30,000 daily Covid infections.

The country with a population of 10.7 million is among the European countries hardest hit by the new wave of infections. Officials have said that the new variant is now dominant with samples from most big cities showing 79 percent of Covid-19 cases were Omicron.

It is expected that the Omicron wave will culminate in late January, with about 50,000 daily cases.

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist contributing to EUobserver, Euronews, EU Reporter, Katoikos, Von Mises Institute, and bne IntelliNews, with a particular focus on European and regional affairs.

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