Covid in Europe: Hospitals straining under rampaging third wave

Doctors forced to make life-and-death decisions as intensive care units run out of beds

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Hospitals across Europe are buckling under the wave of Covid-19 infections, with death rates soaring in several countries.

Doctors in France said they would soon have to decide which patients to save as intensive care beds were filled.

Poland faces a similar crisis, with daily deaths rising from 350 to 440 in the past 10 days.

Patients were being flown by helicopter from struggling hospitals in the Silesia region for treatment elsewhere after the UK variant of the virus ripped through the population.

Italy has reported a surge in cases since last month. The death rate rose from 280 in early March to 481 on Friday.

Germany, whose vaccination rate is slightly higher than that of other European countries, is averaging 150 deaths a day. But the number of intensive care patients has reached its highest level since February and half of them are on ventilators.

In France, fear is growing about the authorities’ ability to cope.

On Sunday, the country recorded 61,000 new cases, its highest infection rate since November last year.

ICU beds in Paris are running at 140 per cent of capacity and one doctor at Rene Dubos hospital said staff were being forced to prioritise between patients because “there are just not enough beds”.

Doctors wrote in Le Journal du Dimanche that the government's failure to impose a rapid, strict lockdown would soon "compel health workers to decide which patients should live and which should die".

A survey showed that 40 per cent of nurses want to leave their jobs because of the stress of dealing with the pandemic.

The latest lockdown in France prevents people from travelling more than 10 kilometres from home, and schools and shops are closed. French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to increase the number of intensive care beds from 7,000 to 10,000.

The situation is in contrast with the easing of lockdown measures in Britain, where 47 per cent of adults have received at least one vaccine dose compared with 14 per cent of those in France.

The death rate in France is 10 times higher than that of the UK, at an average of 300 a day, while average infections have increased 14 per cent over the past 10 days to 40,000. In contrast, over the same period Britain recorded a 30 per cent fall in infections to a daily average of 3,760.

A leading British scientist urged authorities to test everyone travelling from Europe for the virus to keep the spread of variants under control.

“The key thing is the risk of importing variants that might undermine our vaccination programme, and the one we’re particularly concerned about at the moment is the South African variant called B.1.351,” Prof Neil Ferguson told the BBC. “Where the real policy challenge lies in terms of mitigating risk is around what to do about travel to Europe and back.

“I think it would be sensible for at least everyone to be tested when they are coming in.”