Just before the New Year, the death toll from coronaviruses in Eastern Europe topped one million, according to estimates by Reuters .
Although this region, which stretches from the Czech Republic to Russia and Romania, is home to just 39% of the European population, it accounts for 55% of the 1.8 million coronavirus deaths in Europe. According to the statistics site Worldometer, 317,687 people have died of the virus in Russia alone, 100,254 in Poland, 97,554 in Ukraine, 59,070 in Romania, 40,016 in Hungary and 36,683 in the Czech Republic (as of January 12). .
The fall wave of Delta variant infections has created catastrophic conditions even in smaller countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary, which are reporting hundreds of deaths a day. Poland reported a new daily record of 794 deaths on December 29. As in all countries of Eastern Europe, the Polish government has passively observed that daily infections have risen from a few hundred in summer to over 20,000 recently.
Since November, the proportion of positive tests in Poland has hovered around 20%, which suggests massive underreporting. The death toll is also rising rapidly, averaging around 450 a week recently.
Hospitalizations in Poland have peaked so far, with more than 24,000 coronavirus patients hospitalized on December 17. About 2,000 patients required artificial respiration due to their critical condition. As a result, the health care system is on the verge of collapse. According to the Ministry of Health, the country has around 31,900 COVID-19 beds and 2,900 ventilators.
In Poland, only 57 percent of the population is doubly vaccinated. Only 19% received a booster vaccination, which is crucial to significantly reduce the risk of severe disease progression. Since the proportion of the population over the age of 65 is 18.7 percent, a large portion of the total population is at extreme risk.
In other Eastern European countries, the situation is just as dramatic. For example, the vaccination rate in Romania is just over 40 percent, in Ukraine and Hungary just over 30 percent, and in Russia 46 percent. At 64%, the Czech Republic still has one of the highest vaccination rates in the region, but due to the official policy of massive infection, it still has one of the highest death rates (3 398 deaths per million inhabitants).
Mass mortality in Eastern Europe is a blatant accusation of the capitalist profit system. The reintroduction of capitalism by the Stalinist bureaucracy 30 years ago ushered in an unprecedented social counterrevolution. The oligarchy, recruited from the old Stalinist bureaucrats, hit the countries of Eastern Europe with one “reform” after another in the interest of banks and corporations.
The healthcare system has been stripped to the bone. Health expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) in all Eastern European countries was below the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) average in 2019, and therefore below the level of most developed industrial countries. The number of hospital beds per 100,000 inhabitants is also below average.
Despite these horrendous conditions, governments in Eastern Europe have refused to respond with the necessary measures.
Poland’s right-wing PIS government only tightened measures shortly before the Christmas break. The occupancy rates of restaurants, hotels, cinemas, theaters, sports facilities and religious institutions, for example, have been reduced to 30%. However, those who are vaccinated are exempt. As of this week, all the students are back to class. Kindergartens and businesses are also open without restrictions.
The newly elected Czech government led by Petr Fiala also ended the state of emergency shortly before New Year’s Eve. As in many countries, the remaining measures are limited to leisure activities and the unvaccinated. Schools and businesses are open without restriction.
The quarantine period has been reduced to five days so that the benefits flow despite massive infection. A so-called “test-to-stay” policy has been implemented in schools. A positive rapid test no longer sends children to quarantine, only a positive PCR test.
So far, only a few dozen cases of the new Omicron variant have been officially detected in Eastern European countries. But with the first official case of Polish Omicron reported as early as December 16 in Katowice, Poland, it’s clear the virus is much more widespread than has been reported.
Scientists have long warned of the immense danger posed by the spread of Omicron. The Polish Academy of Sciences’ eight-member coronavirus panel (Polska Akademia Nauk, PAN) said in a December 21 statement that Omicron is “a threat to all of us.”
Scientists point out that Omicron undermines vaccine protection, and only with a booster vaccination can the risk of symptomatic disease be reduced by about 75%. At the same time, scientists say, the variant is much more contagious, which means that even assuming Omicron is “softer,” which is by no means proven, it will maximize the health system. Faced with massive infections, not only the healthcare system, but also other parts of critical infrastructure could be crippled.
“Even assuming Omicron is less pathogenic than Delta, the very high number of cases will place a maximum burden on the healthcare system, both for hospitals and primary care settings. It should not be forgotten that in Poland the number of doctors and nurses per capita is extremely low, by far the lowest of the countries of the European Union. Numerous quarantines can paralyze not only the health system, but also other infrastructures important for the functioning of society: police, firefighters, border guards, army, education, courts, public transport, energy, etc.
Scientists are calling for strict monitoring of the rules of distance and masking in public. They also say that a return to reduced social contact is needed. The statement ends with an urgent appeal: “Let us take the looming threat as seriously as it deserves.” “
Even Andrzej Horban, chief medical adviser to the Polish Prime Minister, best known for putting the dangers of the coronavirus into perspective, made it clear. In a newspaper interview Rzeczpospolita, Horban spoke of a “tsunami of infected people”. He called the discussions on compulsory vaccination and vaccination passport checks a “joke” in view of the facts.
About 12 million Poles are not vaccinated and “all of these people” would become “infected with the new variant”, he said. Among them, “statistically, 5 to 10 percent would go to the hospital.” It would therefore be necessary to “house around a million people”. And even if the wave stretches “over a few months,” that means “we may need 50,000 to 60,000 COVID beds. Not to mention where we’re going to find doctors and other medical staff.
With vaccination rates low and infections on the rise, he said, “There will be no choice but to implement a strict lockdown.” There is a need to “come to our senses”. “The tsunami is approaching and it is our duty to warn everyone.
Governments in Eastern Europe know full well that their “profit before life” policies are creating ever greater disaster, with millions infected and killed. To stop mass mortality and stem the Omicron tide, all non-essential businesses, schools and kindergartens must be shut down immediately. It requires the independent intervention of the working class on a socialist program.