Emergency Room Converted Into COVID Ward as Fourth Wave Takes Hold in Romania

As Romania enters its fourth wave of the COVID pandemic, one hospital overloaded with patients was forced to convert its emergency waiting room into a COVID-19 ward and seal it off with a plastic sheet, the Associated Press reported. In the Bucharest University Emergency Hospital, patients who arrive on days when hospitalizations are especially high are forced to lie on stretchers placed in corridors while they wait to get a bed.

Romania's population of 19 million has one of the highest death rates in all of Europe, the AP reported. The country's vaccination rates are also far lower than the European Union's average, with 40 percent of the population fully vaccinated compared to the bloc's average of 75 percent.

The low vaccination rates reflect a distrust of authorities and institutions among Romanians, as well as anti-vaccination movements and educational disparities. The uptick in hospitalizations and deaths has frustrated overwhelmed doctors who decry the population's resistance to getting immunized.

"We are exhausted financially ... physically and psychologically," said Dr. Catalin Cirstoiu, the head of the Bucharest University Emergency Hospital. "All of these are caused by one thing at the end of the day: the population's inability to comprehend that they need to get vaccinated."

Even some doctors in Romania have contributed to the deep-rooted vaccine resistance, according to the AP. Additionally, a member of the Romanian parliament has become one of the most influential opponents of vaccination in the country.

Diana Sosoaca, who is also a lawyer, uses her extensive social media reach to urge Romanians to forgo the shot. In a widely-viewed video posted October 27 on Facebook, Sosoaca addresses citizens who got vaccinated, saying that they "went to the vaccination centers like lambs to the slaughter," Radio Free Europe reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Romania's COVID Surge
As Romania enters its fourth COVID-19 wave of the pandemic, one hospital overloaded with patients was forced to convert its emergency waiting room into a COVID-19 ward. Seen through a plastic sheet, a member of the medical staff checks on COVID-19 positive patients at the University Emergency Hospital waiting area, converted into a COVID-19 section due to the number of cases, in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, November 8, 2021. Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo

The morgue in Romania's main hospital has no space for the dead anymore. In a stark illustration of the human cost of the coronavirus surge sweeping the nation, bodies of COVID-19 victims, wrapped in black plastic bags, line a hallway of the hospital in Bucharest.

Hundreds of people have been dying each day for the past two months in Romania which has been among the hardest-hit in the current virus onslaught raging through Central and Eastern European nations, where far fewer people have been vaccinated than in Western Europe.

Last month the World Health Organization sent a team to help with the nation's pandemic response.

"A village vanishes daily in Romania!" gasped Cirstoiu. "What about in a week or a month? A larger village? Or a city? Where do we stop?"

Cirstoiu insisted that "had 70 percent of the population been vaccinated, we wouldn't have had a fourth wave."

On Monday, hospital staff in protective gear rushed through a sprawling ward to attend to the patients, many of whom were lying in their beds with oxygen masks tight on their faces. A woman sitting on her bed rested her head, wrapped in a pink traditional scarf, on her hand.

Romania recorded its highest daily death toll of the pandemic on November 2 when 591 COVID-19 fatalities were reported — more than 90 percent of them unvaccinated. Currently, 1,870 COVID-19 patients throughout the country are receiving intensive care treatment, nearly 51,000 people with coronavirus have died since the start of the outbreak.

The situation forced the authorities two weeks ago to impose tighter restrictions, making vaccination certificates mandatory for various day-to-day activities, such as going to the gym, the cinema, or a shopping center. Authorities also introduced a nationwide 10 p.m. curfew.

As the restrictions took hold, Romania's failed vaccination campaign was visible when schools resumed on Monday after an extended autumn break, with more than 30 percent of classes forced online because of low vaccination rates at some schools.

Cirstoiu blames the low level of vaccination on general mistrust among the public and a lack of meaningful education and clear campaigns explaining the benefits. Cristoiu described the current virus surge as "the wave of the unvaccinated."

While the latest tightening of rules in Romania has led to a slight drop in daily numbers of infections and deaths — officials announced Tuesday that 487 COVID-19 patients died in the previous 24 hours — doctors warned they remain overwhelming and unlikely to diminish any time soon.

Dr. Maria Sajin, the head of the university clinic's morgue, said while the hospital would normally have an average of 10 fatalities daily, the death toll on Monday reached 26, 14 of whom were COVID-19 patients. Last week, there were 35 deaths in one day, she said.

Powerless in the face of surging deaths, the morgue staff were devastated that the victims included people as young as 20 or 25. Cries of the relatives invited to identify the bodies of their loved ones echoed through the corridors as funeral service workers prepared the coffins for burials.

"Their families don't understand how they got so sick, and the big problem is they also don't understand they need to vaccinate, that there is no medicine," Sajin said. "These are very tough times, nobody understands that vaccines save lives."

COVID Patients Romania
Hundreds of people have been dying daily for the past two months in Romania which has been among the hardest-hit in the current virus onslaught raging through Central and Eastern European nations where far fewer people have been inoculated than in Western Europe. Seen through a plastic sheet a member of the medical staff comforts a COVID-19 positive patient at the University Emergency Hospital waiting area, converted into a COVID-19 section due to the number of cases, in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, November 8, 2021. Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo