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Last Updated on November 29, 2020 by

A rising coronavirus caseload is pushing hospitals in the Balkans to the cusp of collapse, Agence France-Presse has reported.

After nearly a year of keeping outbreaks more or less under control, infections have begun to increase. The Western Balkans, one of Europe’s poorest corners, has seen its death toll double in the last month alone to reach nearly 10,000.

“The situation reminds me of the war, and I’m afraid it could get even worse during the winter,” the doctor, who requested anonymity, told AFP.

The crisis is exposing gaps in healthcare systems that have long suffered from low funding and a brain drain crisis, with an exodus of promising young doctors and nurses leaving to seek better wages and training abroad.

Even before the pandemic began, the Balkans had some of the lowest density rates of doctors in Europe, according to World Health Organization data.

Hospitals are now facing further shortages as staff fall victim to the respiratory disease.

People wait for a medical examination, outside a Covid hospital, in Sarajevo, on November 5, 2020.

People wait for a medical examination, outside a Covid hospital, in Sarajevo, on November 5, 2020. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

In Serbia, some 2,000 medical workers have been forced to self-isolate just as medical wards are seeing a huge inundation of patients filling beds in the capital Belgrade. “I never had such an experience in my professional career”, Rade Panic, the president of a Serbian doctors’ union, told regional TV channel N1 on Friday.

“I didn’t have room for patients that we medically consider young, I didn’t have anywhere to transport them”, added the anaesthesiologist, who works in the “red zone” of a hospital treating the most serious Covid-19 cases.

Bosnia, North Macedonia and Montenegro are all in Europe’s top ten when it comes to highest per capita death rates on the continent. Yet governments in the region have been reluctant to return to the drastic lockdowns imposed at the start of the pandemic, instead opting for lighter restrictions such as early closure of restaurants.

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