Romania reported record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths and infections on Tuesday, as a hospital system stretched to breaking point by the EU’s second-lowest vaccination rate ran out of intensive care beds.
New infections in the preceding 24 hours topped 18,800 while 574 people died of the virus, official data showed.
With emergency beds fully occupied across the country, television footage from Bucharest hospitals showed patients lying on mattresses on the floor or holding oxygen tanks on crowded benches in hallways. Morgues were also running at full capacity.
“There isn’t enough room to take all the cases that need us,” said intensive care doctor Claudiu Rusu. “If the vaccination rate had been at 70 to 80 per cent, we would now have 10 times fewer deaths.”
Romania has managed to fully inoculate roughly 35 per cent of its adult population against a European Union average of 74 per cent.
The low vaccination rate has exposed entrenched distrust in state institutions, misinformation campaigns, poor rural infrastructure and weak vaccine education.
A World Health Organization expert arrived in Romania on Tuesday for a 60-day stay during which she will make recommendations on boosting the vaccine intake, a deputy health minister said.
The centrist government of Prime Minister Florin Citu, which eased COVID-19 restrictions over the summer despite the low vaccination rate, missed a goal of vaccinating 10 million people by September, with just over six million inoculated.
The government has since failed a no-confidence vote and is governing with limited powers until a new cabinet is appointed.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis called the COVID situation a “national drama of terrible proportions” and urged Romanians to get vaccinated.
He told a news conference Tuesday that the “lack of concrete action on the part of the authorities is alarming” and said he has convened a meeting with government officials Wednesday to “establish clear, restrictive measures.”
Even before the pandemic, Romania’s health-care system had been under pressure, dogged by corruption, inefficiencies and politicized management. The country has one of the EU’s least developed health-care infrastructures.