BUCHAREST – Hungary has offered neighboring Romania help in caring for coronavirus patients as the country faces an alarming surge of COVID-19 cases and a shortage of intensive care beds — pushing its health care system to the brink of collapse.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto sent a letter over the weekend offering assistance to Romania in treating COVID-19 patients, Hungary’s Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press.
“Negotiations are underway between the Romanian and Hungarian sides on the concrete form of the assistance,” the ministry said.
Romania, a European Union nation of 19 million, is the second-least vaccinated country in the EU — with 34% of adults fully vaccinated, compared to 74% across the bloc.
On Thursday, Romanian vaccination committee chief Valeriu Gheorghita likened the bleak situation unfolding in Romania to Italy — which was one of the worst-hit countries at the start of the pandemic.
“It is very obvious that hospitals and emergency units are assaulted, overwhelmed by patients with COVID,” Gheorghita said at a news conference, adding that surge in hospitalizations leaves aside other health care needs.
Romania was reporting about 1,000 COVID-19 infections a day around a month ago, but daily cases this week have skyrocketed to record highs of more than 15,000. For the first time since the pandemic started, Romania registered more than 300 deaths in a single day on Wednesday.
There are around 1,500 COVID-19 patients receiving care in Romania’s intensive care units — a situation stretching the country’s ailing health care system to capacity.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis this week called the developments a “catastrophe.”
The scenario prompted Romanian authorities this week to suspend nonemergency medical treatments for 30 days as they try to relieve pressure on hospitals. They have also asked the EU for help through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
The move came days after a hospital fire in the port city of Constanta tore through an ICU for COVID-19 patients, killing seven people. The blaze on Friday was the third to hit a Romanian COVID-19 ward since the pandemic started, revealing severe ailments in the country’s health care infrastructure.
Szijjarto wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday that “if there is a need to care for patients, the Hungarian health care system has the capacity to do it, so (Romania) can count on us.”
Romania’s Health Ministry didn't respond to an AP email Thursday requesting specifics on the help offered by Hungary.
Hungary — a nation of 10 million people with 66% of all adults fully vaccinated — has itself experienced a recent uptick in COVID-19 pandemic indicators, reaching numbers of hospitalizations not seen since early summer.
Hungary recorded 837 new COVID-19 infection cases on Thursday, compared with 14,467 in Romania.
Justin Spike reported from Budapest, Hungary.