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Liege: Belgium's surging second wave of COVID-19 cases on Tuesday forced it to move some severely ill patients – many on ventilators – to neighbouring Germany as hospitals reached capacity.
Helicopters started transporting the patients inside a giant transparent plastic bag connected to medical devices. Most of the transferred patients were intubated and on ventilators.
Hospitals have again reached crisis point in Belgium.Credit:AP
Belgium had among the highest death tolls per capita from the first coronavirus wave in March-April, and now has Europe's highest per capita number of confirmed new infections, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The country of 11 million people has 7231 COVID patients in hospital, 1302 of them in intensive care and local hotspots, such as the eastern city of Liege, have seen the capacity of intensive care beds being reached.
Ambulances began taking patients across the border last week. Air ambulance helicopters started transferring patients deeper into Germany from Tuesday.
Olivier Pirotte, operations coordinator for Belgium's helicopter medical centre, said air transport was required to minimise the travel time for patients.
A trip such as to the German city of Muenster would take at least three hours by road, but can be done up to three times faster by air, and with fewer shocks to the patient such as from road bumps.
Martin Kotthaus, Germany's ambassador to Belgium, said a mechanism had been set up to allow Belgian patients to transfer to hospitals in the German state North Rhine-Westphalia, where there is more spare capacity.
"In the first wave, Germany had more than 230 patients from Italy, France and the Netherlands. Now we are extending our help to Belgium," he said. "But in the future, it might be Germans who would have to come to Belgium."
Sweden announces new restrictions
Elsewhere in Europe the news was similarly bleak on Tuesday.
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced stricter COVID-19 restrictions for another three regions.
"We have a very serious situation," Lofven said. "More and more intensive care beds are now being used to treat COVID patients. The respite we got this summer is over."
He also said parties at restaurants would be limited to eight people.
Sweden has seen a surge in new infections in recent weeks, surpassing peaks set in the spring, though levels are not as high as in countries like Belgium, Spain and France relative to the size of the population.
Greece also expanded its restrictions, extending a night curfew on movement and shutting restaurants, bars, theatres and museums for one month.
The country, which had fared better than many of its European neighbours due to an early nationwide lockdown during the first wave, has reported fewer cases than most in Europe.
But it has seen a gradual increase in infections since early October and has been reimposing restrictions.
Some Greeks believe the new rules will hurt economic activity in a country that recently emerged from a decade-long debt crisis.
"We are talking about a catastrophe," tavern employee Antonis Kalamaras said. "A lot of the businesses that will close won't open again. We are talking about people unemployed, huges losses to revenue, to GDP."
Greece registered 1152 new cases on Monday bringing its total to 42,080 since February. A total of 642 people have died due to COVID-19.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas urged people to respect the latest restrictions and prevent a nationwide lockdown.
"If we implement the measures we will be able to be more optimistic in December," Petsas told Skai TV.
Lockdown rules ignored in Paris
France could reimpose a night curfew on Paris amid government frustration that too many people are ignoring the nationwide lockdown rules.
French cafes and restaurants are closed under the latest nationwide lockdown. Residents are only meant to leave their homes for “essential” purposes.Credit:Bloomberg
"It's unbearable for those who respect the rules to see other French people flouting them," government spokesman Gabriel Attal told BFM TV. "We need to take all the steps needed to fight the epidemic."
A new curfew will be discussed at a meeting between President Emmanuel Macron and senior cabinet ministers on Wednesday, a government source said.
New COVID-19 lockdowns and curbs have stirred resistance across Europe even as countries including France and Spain deal with record daily infections and hospitals buckle under the strain.
"The police have observed clandestine parties, raves, private dinners, even though the virus is spreading rapidly," a government source said.
In Paris, one person was becoming infected every 30 seconds, while a Parisian is admitted to hospital with the disease every 15 minutes, according to Health Minister Olivier Veran.
Health authorities reported 52,518 new COVID-19 cases on Monday. Authorities are now air-lifting patients around the country to ease pressure on intensive care units.
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