WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Doctors and medical workers in Poland fear the country’s health care system may not be able to cope with the latest surge of COVID-19 infections.

More than 30,000 new cases in 24 hours were reported Wednesday in this nation of 38 million people and health authorities are expecting the figure to almost double in the next week, reflecting the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant.

Poland has about 31,000 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, and the current infection rate poses a “great risk to the efficiency of the health care system,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said.

Medical staff are exhausted and overworked and stress that dedicated hospital beds and equipment alone cannot care for the patients. Nurse Gilbert Kolbe, a spokesman for protesting medics, says “Poland’s health care system is not prepared for the fifth wave.”

“Whatever happens during the fifth wave, if no radical steps are taken by our government, will, unfortunately, have influence on the number of deaths,” Kolbe told The Associated Press.

“It is really a great problem that we are simply exhausted,” with people working huge hours every month, Kolbe said, adding that the situation is worsened by the hateful comments and death threats that some medical workers are receiving.

“Even politicians are saying that the pandemic has saved the medics because it allows them to earn better money!” he said. “But we don’t want that money anymore“ but want the pandemic to be over.

Milosz Jankowski, the deputy head of the Anesthesiology Clinic at the government hospital in Warsaw, where the most serious COVID-19 cases are treated, noted the importance of getting vaccinated.

“Perhaps if our society took (the pandemic) more seriously, maybe the authorities would have been more inclined toward more restrictive steps as regards people who are not vaccinated,“ he said.

The health minister on Wednesday backed a draft regulation that would require workers to show proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 to their employers. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also backs the plan. Niedzielski said the certificates, coupled with people working remotely when possible, were seen as a better option for fighting the pandemic than a lockdown.

In Jankowski ‘s opinion, the health system “will survive (this surge) but will be offering less to patients with other medical issues and that will have a price for these patients.”

Some 56.6% of Poland’s population is fully vaccinated and almost 9 million people have received booster shots. Since the start of the pandemic, the country has reported over 103,000 deaths.

“I think we will manage, because we managed to go through the previous waves,” Jankowski told the AP. “Certainly, everyone is really tired, tired with the COVID-19 pandemic.”


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