Soldiers, firefighters, students and retirees: in Central Europe they summon everyone to fight against the coronavirus

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In Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia or Slovenia they are desperately looking for volunteers to face a second wave of the virus that appears very complicated.

In Poland, there are soldiers who test for coronavirus. Medically trained US National Guard troops head to the Czech Republic to work alongside local medics. A Czech university student brings blood samples to laboratories and the mayor of the capital stands guard at a hospital.

As cases multiply in many central European countries, firefighters, students and retired doctors are being asked that help shore up faltering health systems.

“It’s terrifying,” said Dr. Piotr Suwalski, director of the cardiovascular surgery ward at a Polish hospital, on the day that COVID-19 cases rose 20% across the country. “I think that if we continue with a daily increase of 20%, no system can support it”.

Even before the pandemic, many countries in the region suffered a tragic shortage of medical personnel due to years of underfunding of the public health sector and the exodus of doctors and nurses to better paying jobs in Western Europe after their countries joined the European Union in 2004. Now, as the virus spreads rapidly through their hospitals, many health workers have fallen ill, exacerbating that deficit.

Over 13,200 members of medical personnel across the Czech Republic have been infected, including 6,000 nurses and 2,600 doctors, according to the doctors union.

It is not just clinicians that these countries need. Both Poland and the Czech Republic they are building field hospitals as all the beds in the wards are filled, and authorities say there are only twelve ventilators left in hospitals receiving COVID-19 patients in the region around Warsaw, the Polish capital.

This may sound familiar, but not for these countries. In the region, many imposed severe restrictions in the spring – such as sealing borders and closing schools, shops and restaurants – and had very low contagion rates while the virus killed tens of thousands of people in Western Europe.

But now many Central European countries face a similar onslaught to that experienced by their western neighbors … and the same grim warnings.

Announcing new restrictions last week, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis revealed the date when the country’s healthcare system will collapse if the new rules to curb the spread of the virus are not enforced: between 7-11 November.

Hospitals in the Czech Republic, a country with one of the highest infection rates in Europe, desperately looking for volunteers. The government is sending thousands of medical students to hospitals and testing sites.

In the capital Prague, Mayor Zdenek Hrib, who has a medical degree, volunteered to help carry out the first tests of potential coronavirus patients at a university hospital. Twenty-eight medical personnel from the Nebraska and Texas National Guards are expected to arrive in the country shortly to assist in the treatment of patients at the Prague Military Hospital and a new field hospital located in the exhibition center of the city.

Croatia has asked retired doctors to help out in hospitals, while Slovenia has put retired doctors and medical students awaiting instructions should the situation deteriorate.

Meanwhile, Poland is mobilizing soldiers to conduct COVID-19 tests so that medical professionals can dedicate themselves to helping patients, while the Warsaw National Stadium and other spaces are being converted into field hospitals. Three times this week, the country reported new records for daily infections and on Thursday it also announced a record number of daily deaths, 301.

In Poland, deaths among people with cancer and other diseases are also on the rise because doctors and nurses they just can’t keep up with their treatmentsaid Suwalski, the director of cardiovascular surgery at the Warsaw Interior Ministry Hospital, the capital’s main coronavirus hospital.

“The casualty figures from this pandemic are not just patients dying directly from COVID-19,” Suwalski said. “There are also patients who die due to the change in situation and even the collapse of the medical system.”

The problem is especially felt in hospitals in small towns that they don’t have the resources from university medical centers, such as Kyjov, a town in the southeastern Czech Republic with 11,000 inhabitants.

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