A more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in Britain is driving a devastating wave of infection, illness and death across central and eastern Europe.
It has overwhelmed hospitals in the Czech Republic and sent Hungary back into lockdown. Germany now has more patients in intensive care than when the second wave hit late last year, according to the head of its emergency care association.
On Wednesday, Bulgaria, Poland and Ukraine all reported record numbers of new cases, hospitalizations and covid-19 fatalities they largely attribute to the variant, known as B.1.1.7. The variant has been linked in scientific studies to increased sickness and death and was first found in Britain.
Bulgaria also said Wednesday that it suffered a record high of more than 4,800 new cases and now has its largest-ever number of patients hospitalized with the virus, including in intensive care. Earlier this week, the government ordered gyms, malls, restaurants and schools to close.
On Facebook, Ukrainian Health Minister Maksym Stepanov announced that 342 people had died of covid-19 in the past 24 hours, the highest number yet. A record number of Ukrainians — more than 5,400 — were also hospitalized with the virus in the same period, Stepanov said.
In a briefing last week, the World Health Organization said that case rates, hospitalizations and deaths in the region were “among the highest in the world.”