Coronavirus Chronicle in Moldova: The Situation Is Worsening

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Marina DRAGALIN After a month of calm, the epidemiological situation in Moldova has sharply deteriorated. Delays in vaccine supply, the situation gets exacerbated by sanitation violations and health system fatigue. The coronavirus pandemic is gradually slowing down. The World Health Organization has recorded a decline in the number of new cases of COVID-19 for five weeks in a row: during this time, the incidence rates have almost halved. According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, last week recorded the lowest weekly infections number since October last year. To date, 110.9 million cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed. Since mid-January, the mortality rate has declined as well. According to the latest data, almost 2.5 million people have died from the infection and its consequences. At the same time, experts believe that due to the lack of herd immunity at the current stage, the third wave of infections is possible to take place. “The second wave is now showing a decline [in incidence] around the world. There is not enough herd immunity yet, there is no barrier yet, if we are not careful –then yes, the third wave is possible. It depends on the people’s behavior,” the WHO representative in Russia Melita Vujnovich emphasizes. In addition, experts draw attention to the impact of new coronavirus mutations emergence. Recently, a new strain called B.1.525 was discovered in Norway. Cases of infection with it have already been recorded in the UK, Denmark and the USA. In this context, the European Commission, within the framework of the EU biological protection plan "Hera Incubator", plans to allocate 225 million euros for special tests development aimed at detecting new strains and for research in this area. Obviously, virus mutations over time may require revision of already developed vaccines and their adaptation. “New coronavirus forms are spreading rapidly and we must adapt our response to them even faster. To stay ahead of the wave of infections, we are launching a European biological defense action plan called the Hera Incubator,” the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said. In addition to new tests funding the development, the European plan envisages launching a system for information exchange on clinical trials of drugs and tests, vaccine approval procedures acceleration and plans as well to increase their production capacity for EU countries. In essence, the action plan will lay the groundwork for the future of the European Medical Emergency Response Agency which will monitor, assess and model epidemiological risks, and control research and production chains. In connection with the increased attention to the issues of access and vaccines distribution in the EU, there naturally arises the question: when will our country receive the promised batch of drugs. The vaccine is late and the epidemiological situation, meanwhile, has worsened and is again approaching critical indicators. The number of new cases skyrocketed last week and yesterday we saw a peak of 1,340 cases. Experts say that the situation is much more serious than at the beginning of the pandemic. A sharp increase in cases hit the health care system again. There are virtually no beds left in hospitals across the country. At least three medical institutions so far had to increase their number. According to doctors, the beds are occupied by patients in serious condition and mostly by patients aged 25-45 years. “There is not a single patient with moderate severity. All patients are in serious and critical condition. Oxygen dependence is observed in 90%. At the moment, this is the most critical situation since the beginning of the pandemic. It's scary,” says Veronica Tugulschi, the emergency department head at the St. Archangel Michael hospital. In some areas of the country, the number of people infected in February almost doubled compared to January. Doctors report an increase in the number of patients by 14% per week. Surprising in this situation is the position of the Health Ministry, whose representatives deny the lack of places, despite the statements of the medical institutions. “As of today, all medical institutions have vacant beds. There is not a single hospital that does not have beds for hospitalization, and if necessary, additional beds will be used in the departments,” Cristina Stratulat, Public Relations Adviser to the Health Ministry, said. The surge in the incidence is aggravated by widespread neglect of sanitary requirements. “Not all citizens realize the danger of infection. 638 violations of regulations and restrictions [this week], such as mandatory observance of the basic mask requirement and compliance with social distance. Retail sites inspections revealed in particular violations at indoor facilities. Visitors did not wear masks. The situation is no better even at commercial markets: masks are not worn, distance is not observed. Policemen have returned to public transport stops,” State Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Sergiu Golovac said. Serious concerns are also raised by the fact that there will be no one to stop the next wave. To date, almost 16 thousand medical workers have been infected with the coronavirus, of which 83 have died. A timely vaccination campaign could help stabilize the situation, but it has been delayed. Judging by some statements, the delay is due to bureaucratic procedures under the COVAX program. “There are difficulties with supplies, but everything possible is being done for the soonest arrival of vaccine in Moldova. Vaccine distribution is the most difficult logistic process in history,” Alexei Ceban, epidemiologist from the National Agency for Public Health (NAPH), said. At the same time, the NAPH expert draws attention to the research data showing that the COVID-19 vaccination level among the citizens of our country is very low and ranges from 30 to 50%. Thus, once vaccine is received, Moldova risks facing opposition from its own population and may not reach the 70% vaccination level required for the herd immunity to develop. For reference: To date, a little more than 174 thousand cases have been registered in Moldova. 3,717 people died.