As Virus Spikes, Europe Runs Low on ICU Beds, Staff

PARIS (AP) -
A patient infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is transported to a medical helicopter to be transferred from the CHU de Liege hospital in Liege, Belgium, to Germany, last week. (Reuters/Yves Herman)

In Italy lines of ambulances park outside hospitals awaiting beds, and in France the government coronavirus tracking app prominently displays the intensive care capacity taken up by COVID-19 patients: 92.5% and rising. In the ICU in Barcelona, there is no end in sight for the doctors and nurses who endured this once already.

Intensive care is the last line of defense for severely ill coronavirus patients and Europe is running out — of beds and the doctors and nurses to staff them.

In country after country, the intensive care burden of COVID-19 patients is nearing and sometimes surpassing levels seen at last spring’s peak. Health officials, many advocating a return to stricter lockdowns, warn that adding beds will do no good because there aren’t enough doctors and nurses trained to staff them.

Patients from France, Belgium and the Netherlands are being evacuated to German intensive care units, but German doctors say they are watching the number of free beds dwindle quickly.

In the past two weeks alone the number of coronavirus patients treated in ICUs in Germany has almost tripled, from 943 to 2,546.

Dr. Uwe Janssens, who heads Germany’s Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, said some urban areas are reaching precarious levels.

“When a city of millions only has 80, 90 beds left then that can be a critical mass, because you don’t just have COVID-19, there are also traffic accidents, heart attacks, pulmonary embolisms and so forth,” he said.

In the past two weeks alone the number of coronavirus patients treated in ICUs in Germany has almost tripled, from 943 to 2,546. Still Janssens acknowledged that the situation in Germany is better than that of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain.

warned its ICU would run out of space by December under the worst-case scenario, and hospitalizations in Poland have risen to three times the levels seen in the spring. Late last month, American National Guard troops with medical training headed to the Czech Republic to work alongside doctors there, and the mayor of Prague took shifts at a hospital.