BOCHNIA, Poland (AP) – European countries scrambled Monday to reduce the surge in COVID-19 cases and increase vaccines, hoping to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by the latest deadly wave of infections from the pandemic. .
The crowding of coronavirus patients has been relentless for hospitals in Poland, where daily new infections reached records of more than 35,000 in two recent days and the government ordered new restrictions to avoid large gatherings during the long Easter weekend. France’s health minister has warned that the number of intensive care unit patients could match the levels of a year ago.
But in a sign of country-to-country disparities, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that barbers, gyms and outdoor bar and restaurant patios could open next week after the country reported on progress with vaccines and their recent shutdown. Meanwhile, the US vaccination campaign continued to accelerate, with 40 percent of the country’s adult population receiving at least one dose.
On Sunday, coronavirus patients filled nearly all of the 120 beds at Bochnia County Hospital, 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of the southern city of Krakow. One patient, Edward Szumanski, 82, expressed concern that some people still refuse to view the virus that has killed more than 2.8 million people worldwide as a threat. About 55,000 of those deaths have occurred in Poland.
“The disease is certainly there, and it is very serious. Those who have not experienced it, those who do not have it in their family, may be fooling themselves, but the reality is different, “he said.
The most contagious and aggressive virus variant identified in Britain is driving much of the increase in Europe. Meanwhile, voters in many countries are angry with the European Union’s strategy, but also with their own governments’ handling of the pandemic and the inability to prevent repeated spikes in infections.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran warned on Monday that the number of COVID-19 patients in the country’s intensive care units could match the level of the first crisis a year ago. Speaking on TF1 television, he said the country could approach the ICU saturation levels of April 2020, when French ICUs were housing more than 7,000 virus patients, many of whom were in temporary facilities because demand exceeded far beyond the capacity of the country’s pre-pandemic ICU.
Veran expressed hope that new infections from France could peak this week thanks to new partial lockdown measures. After long resisting calls for a new closure, the French government closed schools and closed all non-essential stores across the country and imposed travel restrictions for four weeks.
“We’ll handle it,” Veran said.
The British government announced on Monday that all adults and children will be able to get routine coronavirus tests twice a week as a way to end new outbreaks. The tests are rolling in as Johnson announces the next steps on the country’s roadmap out of its three-month lockdown.
Britain has recorded nearly 127,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest in Europe. But both infections and deaths have dropped dramatically during the confinement and since the start of a vaccination campaign that has so far given a first dose to more than 31 million people, or 6 out of 10 adults.
Authorities in Ukraine’s capital Kiev introduced stricter lockdown restrictions following a recent spike in virus cases. All schools in the city of 3 million people will be closed for the next two weeks and only people with special passes will be allowed access to public transport.
“The hospitals are almost full. The situation is difficult, ”said Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko.
Elsewhere, North Macedonia has delayed mass immunization amid vaccine shortages as its hospitals fill up following record new infections and deaths from COVID-19 last week.
In Greece, which is struggling to emerge from a deep recession, most retail stores were allowed to reopen Monday despite a continued rise in COVID-19 infections. The lockdown measures have been in place since early November, although the stores briefly opened during the Christmas season. The prolonged closures put pressure on the economy.
Serbia has also eased measures against the coronavirus despite the high number of infections and the slowdown in vaccines. On Monday, the government allowed bars and restaurants to serve guests outdoors with reduced capacity and respecting social distancing rules.
In the US, a senior public health official said that young people are driving the latest increase in COVID-19 cases, as the increasing rate of vaccination in older Americans prevents the most severe cases among the old people.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cited the increasing spread of variants, as well as an increase in youth sports and extracurricular activities as contributing factors to the steady increase in cases over the last four weeks.
But Walensky pointed to positive developments among older people, who are the most vulnerable age group. Virus deaths in older people have fallen to their lowest level since early fall. More than 75% of people 65 and older nationally have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 55% are fully vaccinated.
“What we are seeing is both a decrease in emergency department visits and hospitalizations associated with that demographic,” he said Monday.
More than 23% of all adults in the US are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Many states are making vaccines available to younger demographics. As of Monday, any adult in Florida is eligible to receive the vaccine. Additionally, the state announced that 16- and 17-year-olds could also get the vaccine with parental permission.
Charlton reported from Paris. Associated Press editors Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland; Jill Lawless in London; Zeke Miller in Washington; Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine; Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia; Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, North Macedonia; Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece; and Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki, Greece, contributed to this report.