BANJA LUKA (Bosnia-Herzegovina) -- As the coronavirus rages across neighboring countries, doctors from Bosnia are watching with fear. They are bracing themselves for a new wave of the virus in Bosnia. The Balkan nation has a low vaccination rate, and was among the worst affected countries in Europe during the pandemic.
Staff at Banja Luka's main hospital in Banja Luka warn that hospitalizations are on the rise and could soon explode.
Others in Central and Eastern Europe that are low in vaccination have also been experiencing a spike in infections for several weeks, including Bosnia's neighbours Serbia and Croatia. Some countries have seen the most severe cases since the outbreak of the pandemic. This has forced authorities to reconsider tightening anti-virus regulations.
"What we have observed in the past days is that there is an epidemic situation getting worse," Danijel Djokic of Banja Luka's University Clinical Center, said.
He told The Associated Press that he could see how the situation in neighbouring countries will affect his numbers and predicted that their numbers would increase as well.
There is a 300-bed basic capacity at the hospital for COVID patients. 223 beds have been filled, 32 of which are in intensive care. The hospital has been able to increase its capacity gradually to 700 beds during previous surges.
There has been an increase in infections in other parts of Bosnia, with approximately 1,000 new infections per day confirmed Thursday.
Authorities in Sarajevo, the capital, responded by expanding vaccination options, instructing schools to arrange vaccination courses, and announcing that they are closely monitoring the situation for any new restrictions, if necessary.
Most Central and Eastern European governments are reluctant to return to lockdowns. They instead seek to increase vaccination through COVID-19 passes, pro-vaccination appeals, and other means. Bosnia's vaccination rate is around 20%, which is one of the lowest in Europe.
He said, "I would like the chance to emphasize again that vaccination with any vaccine really is the best and most safest way of fighting the COVID-19 virus infection and this pandemic."
Bosnia is still struggling from the 1992-95 war that left more than 100,000 dead. A already fragile health system was further hampered by corruption allegations in the procurement of equipment for COVID-19 hospitals. This led to a probe being launched by the state prosecutor's Office.
Bosnia has seen more than 250,000 infections confirmed and over 11,000 deaths so far. This is one of the highest per capita death rates in Europe.
Marinko Ucur, a patient, said that if I wasn't vaccinated, I would have a difficult time getting through. He spoke with the AP using an oxygen mask from his hospital bed. "The effects of the disease could have been much more difficult on me."
Ucur stated that he was paying close attention to the protection and measures against the virus, but still became infected.
He said, "I don't know how I got it." "I know only that the delta variant of this virus is highly infectious and that people are contracting this very quickly," he said.
Experts blame the delta variant of highly contagious virus for the recent rise in infections in the region. There is widespread disregard for anti-virus recommendations that people wear masks indoors, at distance, and avoid crowds.
Rajko Milunovic (43), a COVID-19 patient from Banja Luka said that he had not been vaccinated, but would do so after he leaves the hospital. Because of mistrust in the authorities, and conspiracy theories about vaccinations, many Bosnians are vaccine skeptics.
He said, "Only when it touches your skin and on you, do you see how dangerous it can be." It is all clear now. I will be vaccinated as soon as I leave here. The vaccine is good for me.