“It’s relentless — relentless,” sighed nurse Claudiu Ionita, standing in front of a line of gurneys in Bucharest University Hospital’s morgue. On each gurney lay a body inside a black plastic bag.
The morgue has a capacity for 15 bodies, but on the day CNN visited, it had received 41. The excess bodies filled the corridor outside, while wails echoed from within the morgue. A woman had been allowed inside for a final glimpse of her father. Bucharest University Hospital is the Romanian capital’s largest medical facility treating Covid-19 patients and is struggling through the country’s fourth wave, its worst yet. “I never thought, when I started this job, that I would live through something like this,” said Ionita. “I never thought such a catastrophe could happen, that we’d end up sending whole families to their graves.”
Several floors above, all the beds but one in the hospital’s now-expanded intensive care units were full. A nurse was changing the sheets on the one vacant bed — empty, because the person who occupied it now lay in the morgue. Romania has one of Europe’s lowest vaccination rates. Just under 36% of the population has been vaccinated, even though the country’s vaccination campaign got off to a good start last December.
Medical workers and officials attribute this low vaccination rate to a variety of factors, including suspicion of the authorities, deeply held religious beliefs, and a flood of misinformation surging through social media. When Dr. Alexandra Munteanu, 32, arrived for duty at one of Bucharest’s vaccination centers after an overnight shift in hospital, she found turnout was low. She’s perplexed that the gravity of the disease just doesn’t seem to have sunk in. “There are lots of doctors, myself included, who work with Covid patients, and we are trying to tell people this disease actually exists,” she said.
One of the country’s most vocal and high-profile anti-vaxxers is Diana Sosoaca, a member of the Romanian Senate. In one of her many public stunts she tried to block people from entering a vaccine center in her constituency in the northeast of the country. “If you love your children, stop the vaccinations,” she says in a video clip on her Facebook page. “Don’t kill them!”