COVID surge prompts sobering projections for Europe's hospitals

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in several European hot spots, hospitals in some countries are shuffling patients to find intensive care unit (ICU) beds, and the World Health Organization's (WHO's) European office today warned that hospitals in nearly all of the region's countries could face similar challenges in the months ahead.

Some nations already face pressure

In the Netherlands, hospitalizations are at their highest levels since May, with roughly half of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to Reuters. In some instances, patients were taken across the border to Germany for care, and some facilities have cut back on other procedures, such as cancer treatment and heart surgery, to make room for COVID-19 patients.

Meanwhile, in Germany, ICU capacity is full in some hard-hit areas, including Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg states in the south, according to Deutsche Welle. The country is also struggling with a lack of staff to provide specialized ICU care.

The WHO European office today said it expects 25 countries to feel high or extreme stress on hospital beds and that ICUs in 49 of 53 countries are likely to feel high or extreme stress between now and Mar 1.

Deaths on track to pass 2 million by spring

COVID-19 deaths in the WHO European region have doubled since late September, and they recently passed the grim milestone of 1.5 million since the start of the pandemic—and could reach 2.2 million by next spring, the WHO said.

Currently, COVID-19 is the leading cause of death across Europe and Central Asia, based on modeling estimates from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

What's driving Europe's surge?

Three main factors are driving Europe's ongoing COVID-19 surge, the WHO said. One is the more transmissible Delta (B1617.2) variant. Second, many countries have eased their COVID-19 measures, and cooler temperatures are bringing people indoors to gather in groups.

Also, the WHO said many people are vulnerable to the disease due to large numbers of unvaccinated people and waning vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild disease. The region's 53.5% level of people who received their primary vaccination series hides a wide difference in coverage between countries, which ranges from less than 10% to over 80%.

The WHO said countries in Europe should consider offering booster doses to those older and 60 and healthcare workers, and it added that the European Technical Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization is working on guidance that is expected to be released later in the week.

However, the WHO urged countries not to rely solely on vaccines.

Hans Henri Kluge, MD, MPH, who directs the WHO's European office, said, "In order to live with this virus and continue our daily lives, we need to take a 'vaccine plus' approach. This means getting the standard doses of vaccine, taking a booster if offered, as well as incorporating preventive measures into our normal routines."

More global headlines

  • The WHO today issued treatment guidelines for children with multi-inflammatory syndrome related to COVID-19, and it also announced that the Medicines Patent Pool has finalized the first nonexclusive license for a COVID-19 tool, a serologic test developed by Spanish researchers.

  • Israel's cases are starting to rise again, with half of the latest cases in children ages 11 and younger. Yesterday, the country began offering COVID-19 vaccination to children ages 5 to 11.

  • France's Prime Minister Jean Castex tested positive for COVID-19, according Reuters. He is fully vaccinated.

  • The global total today rose to 258,589,392 cases, along with 5,163,587 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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