Bosnian medics brace for new wave as virus rages across region


BANJA LUKA, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) – Watching with fear the coronavirus rage in neighboring countries, Bosnian doctors are bracing for a new wave in the Balkan nation, which has a low vaccination rate and has been among the hardest-hit countries in Europe earlier in the pandemic.

In the northwestern city of Banja Luka, staff from the COVID-19 department at the city’s main hospital are warning that hospitalizations have increased in recent days and could explode soon.

Other countries with low vaccination rates in central and eastern Europe are already grappling with an increase in infections that has been going on for weeks, including neighboring Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. Some countries have recorded the highest numbers since the start of the pandemic, forcing authorities to reluctantly consider tightening anti-virus rules.

“What we have noticed in recent days is that the epidemic situation is getting worse, we can certainly say that,” said Danijel Djokic, COVID-19 department head at the University Clinical Center of Banja Luka.

“Looking at the situation in neighboring countries, we can say that our numbers will also increase,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The hospital has a basic capacity of 300 beds for COVID patients, and 223 have already been filled, including 32 in intensive care. In previous outbreaks, the hospital has managed to gradually increase its capacity to some 700 beds when needed.

An increase in new infections was also reported in other parts of Bosnia, with around 1,000 new daily infections confirmed as of Thursday.

In response, authorities in the capital Sarajevo expanded immunization options, asked schools to hold immunization classes, and announced they were monitoring the situation for possible further restrictions if infections got out of hand.

In most countries of central and eastern Europe, governments have been reluctant to return to lockdowns, hoping instead to bolster immunization with COVID-19 passes and calls for immunization. Bosnia’s vaccination rate is around 20% of the population of 3.2 million, which is one of the lowest in Europe.

Doctors in Banja Luka said most of their current patients had either not been vaccinated at all or had only received one dose. Vaccinated people who end up in hospital are usually older and still have a better clinical situation that usually does not end fatally, Dr Djokic said.

“I would like to take the opportunity to re-emphasize that vaccination, with any vaccine, is truly the safest and most secure way to fight COVID-19 infection and this pandemic,” said he declared.

Still struggling after being devastated in a 1992-95 war that killed more than 100,000 people, Bosnia struggled during the pandemic. An already poor health system has further been plagued by reports of corruption in purchasing equipment for COVID-19 services, triggering an investigation by the state attorney’s office.

So far, Bosnia has recorded more than 250,000 confirmed infections and more than 11,000 deaths, which is among the highest death rates in Europe per capita.

“If I wasn’t vaccinated I would probably have a hard time getting through it,” said Marinko Ucur, a PA patient from his hospital bed, speaking through an oxygen mask. “The effects of the disease would have been much harder for me. “

Ucur said he had paid attention to measures and protection against the virus and was still infected.

“I have no idea how I got it,” he said. “I just know that this delta variant is very contagious and people get it very quickly.”

Along with low vaccination rates, experts blamed the region’s latest skyrocketing infections on the highly contagious delta variant amid a widespread lack of adherence to common antivirus recommendations for people to wear face masks indoors, from a distance and avoid crowds.

Another COVID-19 patient in Banja Luka, Rajko Milunovic, 43, said he had not been vaccinated but would do so immediately after being released from hospital. Many in Bosnia are vaccine skeptics out of general distrust of authorities and floating vaccine conspiracy theories.

“It’s only when you feel this disease on your skin, on yourself, that you realize how dangerous it is,” he said. “I can see everything clearly now. As soon as I get out of here, I’ll be vaccinated. I think the vaccine is a good thing.


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