Hospitals in several parts of Europe, from the Midlands of England to Ukraine, are warning their intensive care units are reaching full capacity as a second wave of coronavirus sweeps across the continent.
Doctors are once again talking about a viral tsunami hitting them, one that's likely to be worse than the first wave that hit Europe and the United States earlier this year. With the tempo of new infections quickening, even before the northern hemisphere winter sets in, alarm is rising.
Vassilis Voutsas, a Greek doctor who works in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Thessaloniki's Papanikolaou Hospital, said Thursday: "My fear is that the number of patients will be so big that we won't be able to treat them all." The unit has seen a fivefold rise in patients.
"The hospital system is already at its limits," he added.
A clamor of warnings is also coming from hospitals in an arc across northern Italy.
Midweek, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy passed the symbolic one million mark, according to government data. The country is now recording more than 30,000 new infections daily and deaths are rising from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
This week, Massimo Galli, head of the infectious diseases department at Milan's Sacco hospital, warned the situation was "largely out of control." Italy's national association of internal medicine professionals agrees, saying Italy's hospitals in the worst-hit north are close to collapse due to the number of COVID-19 patients being admitted.
In an open letter published by the Italian news agency ANSA, the association said hospitals are suffering a shortage of staff and lack of beds "in the face of an abnormal influx of patients due to the rapid and dizzying spread of COVID infection." The association is calling for a total national lockdown, saying there should be no "downplaying the situation," which they describe as "dramatic."
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte last week imposed a nationwide overnight curfew, ordered an early closing for bars and restaurants, and announced further restrictions on people traveling between regions where infection rates are high. Several regions, including Lombardy, the epicenter of the pandemic in Italy during the first wave, have been declared "red zones" and are in a virtual lockdown.
In an interview with La Stampa newspaper, Conte said he was working "to avoid the closure of the entire national territory" and is waiting to see if the new restrictions do tamp down the rising numbers. "We are constantly monitoring the evolution of the contagion, the reactivity and the capacity of our health system to respond," he said.
In Ukraine, where more than half a million confirmed coronavirus cases have been recorded, the COVID-19 situation is dire in some regions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, have been hospitalized after testing positive, although they are suffering only mild symptoms of COVID-19, according to the president's spokeswoman, Iuliia Mendel.
The Ukrainian government has approved a "weekend lockdown," which will force non-essential businesses to close on Saturdays and Sundays. Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said he would have preferred a full nationwide lockdown "but our economy won't survive." Last week he warned the country was facing a potential "catastrophe."
In Nizhyn, a city located in Chernihiv region 150 kilometers northeast of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, the hospitals are struggling, according to local residents. "The situation with COVID is very difficult, there are no more places in the hospital in my city, other premises will be used, and now there is selection of patients who have more chances to survive," mother-of-two Svitlana told VOA via email.
In Britain, hospitals are also embattled and worried by the surging cases. In the Midlands of England, hospitals are near capacity with little wiggle room left. Coventry's University Hospital has been operating at 96 to 98 percent capacity the past few days as it battles the second wave of coronavirus cases.
"We're in the midst of what I'd call an operational tsunami," said Kiran Patel, the chief medical officer. A critical-care consultant, Tom Billyard, told Britain's Sky News, "We normally struggle through winter, so to add more COVID patients on top of that is a big worry."
On Thursday, British health authorities announced 33,470 people had tested positive for coronavirus in the previous 24 hours — the highest figure recorded since the pandemic began, according to government figures.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex has also warned his country's hospitals are under immense strain, saying there is a hospital admission every 30 seconds. "The pressure on our hospitals has intensified enormously," he said.