Huge jumps in COVID-19 deaths and cases have been reported in the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, and France this weekend. Hospital systems in many of these countries are running out of supplies, staff, hospital beds, and ICU-level treatments.
The shortage of protective gear for medical staff at many European hospitals has forced some to tape trash bags to their bodies as makeshift biohazard suits.
Bloomberg interviewed Samantha Gonzalez,52, who works at the Txagorritxu hospital in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Alava, Spain. She warned: "This is not the first world anymore—it's a war" amid surging virus cases in the country.
Across Europe on Saturday, deaths accorded to the fast-spreading virus soared, with Italy reporting a record 793 deaths on Friday, and Spain reporting another 300 cases, bringing their totals to 4,825 and 1,326.
The UK also reported another string of deaths, as millions await a lockdown order on London, while hospitals and intensive care units in Italy and Spain are struggling to cope, despite some Madrid hotels being temporarily converted and of the Fair of Madrid, the capital's main exhibition space.
One of the leading hospitals in Bergamo, northern Italy, the current epicenter of the virus outbreak in Europe, has run out of hospital beds, and ICU-level treatment, as an influx in patients, has overwhelmed the facility. The sick are being transferred to offsite locations, equipped with oxygen machines.
From Italy to Spain to other regions in Europe, hospital systems are at full capacity, canceling non-urgent surgeries, and appointments to handle the influx of virus patients. In a couple of weeks, countrywide shutdowns like what's happening in Italy could be the norm across many European countries.
Giovanni Rezza, head of the infectious diseases department at Rome's Superior Health Institute, said, "Italy wasn't completely prepared for the coronavirus:"
"It's only in some two weeks that Italy will find out whether the government's nationwide lockdown and social distancing rules have had an impact," said Rezza.
"The lockdown is only delaying the spread of the epidemic, we expect that there will be new outbreaks in future. But in the meantime we have to equip hospitals with more intensive care beds, even in Lombardy which is one of the best-equipped regions in Europe."
The biggest challenge for European hospital systems is having enough protective gear for medical staff.
In Spain, 3,500 Spanish doctors have contracted the virus, which is 12% of the total number of cases detected. With the lack of gear, doctors and nurses are more susceptible to contracting the virus, which could cause medical staff shortages that would undoubtedly lead to high mortality rates.
"Just in the nephrology department, three out of 13 colleagues have fallen ill, one of them seriously," said Giuseppe Remuzzi, a former head of the department of medicine at the Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital in Bergamo, Italy, who has joined efforts to contain the pandemic. "This is a scary, terrible situation."
Medical staff have been instructed to swap out old protective gear every four hours, which includes changing face masks, splash guard googles, and biohazard suits. Since supplies are limited, doctors and nurses are making their own bio hazmat suits with taping garbage bags on their body.
"This thing blew up on us," said Pelayo Pedrero, the head of labor risk prevention at doctors' union AMYTS in Madrid, Spain. "No one was ready for this. They didn't buy the supplies, they didn't prepare the hospitals to receive and treat all these patients. Not just in Madrid or Spain, but all over Europe."
To sum up, the evolution of the virus crisis is that medical gear shortages could lead to labor shortages at hospitals across Europe because medical staff aren't adequately protected against the virus. Europe has become the new China. And in the weeks ahead, parts of the US could transform into Italy.