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In Europe’s least vaccinated countries, Bulgaria and Romania, the delta variant is putting hospitals under pressure.

The Associated Press reports that while around 72 per cent of adults across the entire EU have been fully vaccinated, there is a far lower uptake in some eastern european countries.

Bulgaria and Romania are lagging dramatically behind as the EU’s two least-vaccinated nations, with just 22% and 33% of their adult populations fully inoculated.

Rapidly increasing new infections have forced authorities to tighten virus restrictions in the two countries, while other EU nations such as France, Spain, Denmark and Portugal have all exceeded 80% vaccine coverage and have begun to ease restrictions.

In Norway, which has vaccinated around 70%, authorities on Saturday scrapped restrictions that Prime Minister Erna Holberg called “the strictest measures in peacetime.” Denmark lifted virus restrictions on Sept. 10, while the U.K. has also abandoned most pandemic restrictions due to high vaccine rates.

Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s health commissioner, said the “worrying gap” on vaccinations needs urgently addressing.

At Bucharest’s Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology, the ICU’s chief doctor, Genoveva Cadar, says its beds are now at 100% capacity and around 98% of all its virus patients are unvaccinated.

“In comparison to previous waves, people are arriving with more severe forms” of the disease, she said, adding that many patients in this latest surge are younger than in previous ones. “Very quickly they end up intubated — and the prognosis is extremely bleak.”

Daily new coronavirus infections in Romania, a country of 19 million, have grown exponentially over the last month. Government data shows that 91.5% of COVID-19 deaths in Romania between Sept. 18-23 were people who had not been vaccinated.

On Sunday, 1,220 of Romania’s 1,239 ICU beds for virus patients were occupied.

In a packed intensive care unit for coronavirus patients in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, 55-year-old Adrian Pica spoke to Associated Press from his bed. “Until now I didn’t believe in COVID-19,” Pica, who said his early symptoms left him sweating and feeling suffocated. “I thought it was just like the flu. But now I’m sick and hospitalized. I want to get a vaccine.”

Vlad Mixich, a Romanian public health specialist, told the AP that a “historic distrust of authorities” together with what he said was a very weak government vaccination campaign has contributed to the low vaccine uptake among his compatriots.

In neighboring Bulgaria 23% of people said they do not want to get vaccinated, compared with only 9% across the bloc, according to a Eurobarometer survey.

Sabila Marinova, the ICU manager at a hospital in Bulgaria’s northern town of Veliko Tarnovo, says none of its COVID-19 patients is vaccinated.

“We are very exhausted,” she said. “It seems that this horror has no end.”

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