Romania goes through its worst wave of covid-19 with overflowing morgues

(CNN) — “He is relentless … relentless”, sighed the nurse Claudiu Ionita, standing in front of a row of stretchers in the morgue of the University Hospital of Bucharest, Romania. On each stretcher there was a body in a black plastic bag.

The morgue It has capacity for 15 bodies, but the day CNN visited it, it had received 41. The excess corpses it filled the corridor outside, as lamentations echoed inside the morgue. A woman was allowed in to get one last look at her father.

Bucharest University Hospital is the largest medical center in the Romanian capital that treats covid-19 patients and is going through the fourth wave that hits the country, the worst of all.

“I never thought, when I started this job, that I would experience something like this,” Ionita said. “I never thought such a catastrophe could happen, that we would end up sending entire families to the grave.”

Dr Alexandra Munteanu, photographed at the Palatul Copiilor vaccination center in Bucharest on November 16, is ready to vaccinate as many people as necessary, if only they would go there.

Several floors up, all but one of the hospital’s intensive-care beds, now expanded, were full. A nurse was changing the sheets on the only free bed, empty because the person who occupied it was now lying in the morgue.

Low vaccination levels in Romania

Romania has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe.

Only 36% of the population has been vaccinated, despite the fact that the country’s vaccination campaign got off to a good start last December.

Medical workers and officials attribute this low vaccination rate to a number of factors, including mistrust of authorities, deeply held religious beliefs, and the avalanche of misinformation circulating on social media.

When 32-year-old Dr. Alexandra Munteanu came to work at one of Bucharest’s vaccination centers after a night shift at the hospital, she found that attendance was low. She is puzzled because the severity of the disease does not seem to have permeated. “There are many doctors, including myself, who work with COVID-19 patients, and we are trying to tell people that this disease really exists,” he said.

One of the people who has spoken out the most against the virus is Diana Sosoaca, a member of the Romanian Senate. In one of his many public events, he tried to prevent people from entering a vaccination center in his constituency, in the northeast of the country.

A banner in Bucharest shows doctors working with COVID-19 patients with this message: “They are suffocating. They are begging us. They are lamenting.”

“If you love your children, stop the vaccination,” he says in a video posted on his Facebook page. “Don’t kill them!”

The vaccines offered in Romania have been extensively tested for use in children and have been shown to be safe and effective, but that hasn’t stopped her and others from spreading wild rumors on social media and local television.

Officials and medical staff are exasperated that public figures have done so much to undermine their efforts.

“Look at the reality,” said Colonel Dr. Valeriu Gheorghita, an Army doctor who leads the national vaccination campaign. “We have our intensive care units full of patients. We have a lot of new cases. We have, unfortunately, hundreds of deaths every day. So this is the reality. And more than 90% of the patients who died were not vaccinated.”

In Bucharest, a huge banner has been placed, covering half the facade of a building on a major boulevard. “They are suffocating. They beg us. They lament,” are the words printed in huge black letters on black and white photographs of doctors fighting over COVID-19 patients in an intensive care unit.

Downstairs, few passersby look at the poster, and even fewer care to share their thoughts with CNN. However, soon that poster will be placed in other large cities in the country.

Neculai Miron, mayor of Bosanci village in Suceava county, speaks out against the vaccine: he believes it is not safe.

“There is manipulation,” said a woman who only gave her name as Claudia, adding: “There are people who do not believe in vaccines.”

Mayor: “It is not a safe vaccine”

Nowhere is that suspicion more evident than in the countryside, where vaccination rates against covid-19 fall to half of those of urban areas.

Suceava County, an hour’s flight northeast of Bucharest, has the lowest vaccination rate in the country.

Here, the director of the main hospital, Dr. Alexandru Calancea, 40, talks about the uniqueness of this region, where he was born and raised.

“This county is very religious. It is an area with a strong religious tradition and with a lot of religious people. […] Very few [sacerdotes] they are in favor of vaccines, and I definitely know some who are against it. Most decide not to say anything, neither for nor against. We have evidence, from the hospital, of patients who come from the same religious communities, in which their priest, or their parish priest, has advised them not to get vaccinated, without more. “

On the outskirts of Suceava, in the village of Bosanci, such a shepherd is also the mayor of the village. Neculai Miron has been one of the most anti-vaccination public figures in the country, and today is no different.

Newly laid graves in the largest cemetery in Suceava, in northeastern Romania, which has the third highest death rate from covid-19 in the country.

“We are not against vaccination, but we want to verify it, to satisfy our concerns, because there have been many side effects,” he told CNN. “We do not believe that the components of the vaccine are very safe. It is not a safe vaccine.”

The medical data doesn’t convince him, and neither does the local GP, whom he took to see the CNN team.

Dr. Daniela Afadaroaie administers the vaccine to about 10 people every other day, using the Johnson & Johnson formula. The latest official records show that just under 11% of the town was vaccinated in early November 2021.

As he talked about the situation in the town, Mayor Miron hovered around the doctor’s table, flipping through the papers on her desk to see who had been vaccinated.

“When are you going to get vaccinated, Mr. Mayor?” Afadaroaie asked, laughing.

“I don’t need to get vaccinated,” he replied. “I am perfectly healthy.” The doctor’s explanation that the vaccine helps keep it that way fell on deaf ears.

Pastor: “I believe more in what I see than in what I hear”

In rural villages like this one, poverty and lack of education, coupled with the personal influence of local leaders and traditional religious beliefs, can be a deadly combination.

But the local Pentecostal pastor, Dragos Croitoru, insisted he was not aware of any COVID-19 deaths in the parish. “Here in the church, we do not have any cases of people sick with coronavirus. We have a mortality rate of zero percent, I do not know anyone who has died of coronavirus here in our parish. And I believe more in what I see than in what I hear, “he said.

Despite hearing on CNN that the bodies of Covid-19 victims filled the morgue of the University Hospital in Bucharest, Croitoru was not convinced. “Bucharest is bigger than Bosanci that I know of,” he said with a laugh. “We haven’t had any deaths. We may have had some sick people in town, yes, that I know of, yes. But the death rate in our church has been zero.”

The mortality rate is certainly high in other parts of this region, mostly rural. At the beginning of November, Suceava was ranked third on the covid-19 mortality list nationwide, according to figures from the Public Health Unit, which keeps the death toll.

Europe establishes stricter measures for unvaccinated 2:02

A corner of the main cemetery in Suceava, the county town about 10 minutes from Bosanci, is lined with freshly dug graves. A religious service is being held in the cemetery chapel. On the hill behind the chapel, mourners gather for a funeral. Nearby, another grave is being prepared.

The wooden crosses above each new grave do not indicate the cause of death, so it is unclear how many died from the virus. However, a man who works in one of the graves says that the number of people buried lately is much higher than usual.

“Eternal repentance,” reads a ribbon placed on one of the graves.

In the morgue of the University Hospital in Bucharest, a doctor drives a nail into a wooden coffin. A colleague sprays the coffin with disinfectant.

For those who die of covid-19, there will be no open house funerals.

“The vaccine means the difference between life and death,” said Ionita, the nurse. “People should understand it. Maybe in their last hour they should understand it.”

For those of you wrapped in the black body bags in front of you, it’s too late.

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