All of the information and statistics are up to date: 15.10.2021
Sources are listed below the article.
On Wednesday the World Health Organization announced that the number of reported deaths from COVID-19 continues to decline all over the world and is now at its lowest level in nearly a year. However, the Director-General stressed that mortality is declining in all regions, except Europe. Low vaccination rates and inadequate policies have led to Covid infection peaks all over the old continent. Bulgaria is a country often mentioned as being the least prepared, with the highest deaths and lowest vaccinations in both Europe and the EU. Is this really the case or is the situation more complex?
The Delta variant of the Coronavirus surprised many countries with its rapid infection rate. In the summer tourist destinations in the south of the continent eased restrictions and removed lockdowns. Bulgaria was one of these countries and shared the worst of the aftereffects with some of its neighbors in the Balkans. In Eastern Europe, several countries are suffering just the same but are not mentioned enough. How is Europe really handling the COVID-19 crises?
Outside the EU
Western Europe can celebrate the results of successful vaccination campaigns during the summer and low mortality rate at the moment, which is in stark difference from the central and eastern parts of the continent. Even the United Kingdom which currently has the highest number of new infections since July 2021 with 39,076 infections daily, can hardly be considered a state in danger. While the West overperforms, things are looking grim in the Balkans and in Eastern Europe.
What the media often fails to mention is the statistics of countries outside the European Union. But in order to grasp the magnitude of this crisis and explain the high numbers of mortality for Europe, we have to look at countries like Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, and several states in the Western Balkans.
Currently, four countries in the European continent are still at the peak of their infection curve. Two of them are in the EU: Latvia and Romania, and the other two are outside of the Union: Russia and Belarus. The average number of new infections reported in Russia each day has reached 29,600 which makes the country second, after the UK, with most daily infections. However, while the UK has a low mortality rate and high vaccination rate, Russia is the number one country in Europe with the most deaths each day, followed by Romania and Ukraine. In addition, the Russians are first in total new cases, total deaths, and in the rate of new death cases on the continent. As a positive, Russia is first in newly recovered patients at 22,268 people.
It is a valid argument that Russia is only partly in Europe and the high numbers can be explained by the sheer size and large population of the country, in combination with a low vaccination rate (34,16%). Ukraine, on the other hand, is entirely on European soil but it is one of the hardest-hit countries by the Coronavirus crises. Currently, the state is third in daily deaths on the continent and fourth in daily infections. Additionally, Ukraine is ranked eighth in the world by the number of total cases with 2,610,899. More shockingly, this is the country with the least vaccinated people in Europe with only 17,93% of the population vaccinated with at least one shot. The total deaths in the country are 64,049 or 144 per 100,000 people.
Moldova and Belarus have relatively low case and death rates compared to other countries but they are both registering daily increases in infections and mortality. The average number of new infections reported each day in Moldova rose by more than 260 over the last 3 weeks, 16% of its previous peak. While COVID-19 infections in Belarus are at their peak — the highest daily average reported — now at 2,009, new infections are reported each day. Moldova and Belarus are also at the bottom of vaccination rates with 20,50% for the former and 23,67 for the latter, respectively.
The Western Balkans
This region is often mentioned when it comes to EU enlargement but not so much regarding the Coronavirus crises. Croatia and Serbia each have around 8,900 total deaths due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Serbia however has 1,031,283 total confirmed cases in comparison to Croatia’s 424,666. The latter also has a better recovery rate and currently has 9,811 active cases. Compared to their eastern neighbors who have 125,552 active cases. According to official data, every 27 minutes there is a death related to COVID-19 in Serbia. However, it’s not all bad news for the Serbs, as the average number of new infections reported in the country has been decreasing for 12 days straight, in addition to their 44,36% vaccination rate – in the top 4 for the region.
On the opposite side of this spectrum are North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The two countries hold the second and third positions in deaths related to covid per 100,000 people - in the world. North Macedonia has vaccinated 38,22% of its population, while Bosnia and Herzegovina only 22,50%. The Federation is also reporting 545 new infections on average each day, however, that is just 33% of their peak in April this year - around 4,000 per day. For the North Macedonians, the COVID-19 infections rate is decreasing, with 302 new infections reported on average each day.
Inside the EU
European Union is often divided into east vs west, north vs south, and other types of divisions depending on who creates the narrative. Even with the current Coronavirus crises, the EU is again divided. As mentioned above, the West overperformed, but a different picture is emerging in Central and Eastern Europe. A wave of covid cases and deaths threatens to overwhelm already overstretched health systems. The factors are many and different: in some countries, there was an ease on vaccination campaigns, on lockdowns, and on restrictions; in others, there were elections, political strife, and incompetentCovid policies. The fact is: some countries didn’t prepare enough and underestimated the virus
Latvia and Romania both took drastic actions in early October to free up space in hospitals that were being overwhelmed with new cases. Last Monday, Romania halted all nonemergency surgeries and hospital admissions, while on Tuesday Latvia declared a state medical emergency, diverting resources to focus on coronavirus infected patients. The series of inadequate measures had results: test positivity for the EU/EEA in the week of 04-10.10.2021 was 10% or higher in three countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, and Romania_. The hospital occupancy rate (meaning daily occupancy in the last week per 100 000 population) in the week 27.09-03.10.2021 was 50% or higher in four countries (Bulgaria, Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania).
Latvia is currently at its peak of daily infections with average numbers reaching more than 1,600. The same is experiencing Romania, currently at its peak as well, with 13,700 daily infections. The Romanians are also ranked fifth in the world in rate of deaths caused by COVID-19 in the last 7 days: 1,838 people. Regarding vaccination, Latvia has vaccinated 52,22% of its population while Romania is at the bottom of the EU with 32,87%. The 14-day COVID-19 death rate for the EU/EEA in the week of 04-10.2021 was 100 per 1 million population in three countries (Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Romania).
Is Bulgaria Doing the Worst Job with the COVID-19 Crises Compared to the Rest of Europe? Yes..and no.
Bulgaria is far from the top places in total deaths caused by COVID-19 in the world, even in Europe and the EU. However, the country is fourth in death rates per 1 million people reaching the number of 3,168.4, and is also second in deaths per 1 million people in the last 7 days with 73.97, topped only by Romania. This is far from reassuring, however, as Romania has a population of 19,186,201 while the Bulgarians are less than 6,800,000.
The average number of new infections reported each day in Bulgaria rose by more than 920 over the last 3 weeks. What is more concerning is that the country is last in the EU’s statistics on vaccinations. It is not only the EU, however. On the European continent, the country with the least vaccinated people is Ukraine with 17,93% followed by Bulgaria with 20,41%. This means that Bulgarians are not only the least vaccinated nation in the European Union but are a close last to the country with the least vaccinated population on the entire continent. A study conducted by the Center for Analysis and Marketing showed that 40% of Bulgarians do not plan to get vaccinated against the Coronavirus. In addition, doctors inside the country report that there are not enough hospital beds and that the so-called “covid zones” do not offer anything for infected patients.
On October 13, 2021, there was a briefing by the Health Ministry on the COVID-19 situation in Bulgaria. A comparative analysis of the incidence in the country compared to other countries was presented by Professor Iva Hristova. She claimed that “in neighboring Serbia, the number of patients is many times higher than in Bulgaria”. She was right. Serbia has a total of 1,031,283 Coronavirus cases while Bulgaria has 534,312 up until October 14, 2021. However, Professor Hristova failed to mention that Serbia has a COVID-19 total death count of 8,946 people compared to Bulgaria’s 22,102; Serbia has 286 patients in serious or critical condition while Bulgaria has 493; Serbia has 1029 deaths per 1 million of the population in comparison to Bulgaria’s 3,212. Lastly, the gap in vaccination rate between the two countries is over 24% in favor of Belgrade.
Numbers can be easily skewed into different results serving someone’s agenda conveniently. We can look at lower statistics for Bulgaria and say we’re doing good compared to a different country. Or we can look harder at the numbers that matter and take action, while there is still time. So is Bulgaria doing that bad compared to the rest of Europe? The reader can decide for themselves.