On the front lines of Europe’s surging 2nd COVID crisis: Reporter’s Notebook

I’ve just left the intensive care unit of a hospital in Liege, Belgium. It’s impossible to know of course, but this is quite possibly the epicenter of Europe’s new coronavirus crisis.



a person standing in front of a refrigerator: A health worker standing in an intensive care unit treats a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.


© Yves Herman/Reuters
A health worker standing in an intensive care unit treats a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.

The city of about 200,000 residents nestled in eastern Belgium is at around a 41% infection rate, and the hospital is at full capacity. Intensive care unit numbers have tripled in three weeks. Belgium, which had 100 to 200 cases per day throughout June and early July, is now marking north of 10,000. On Oct. 25, it set a daily record with 17,709.

We stood outside one room — which patients are now forced to share due to overcrowding — to hear the groans of an elderly man who was just admitted. As doctors and nurses attended to him another ambulance swept up outside the window with another case.

MORE: Europe struggling with 2nd surge of COVID-19 case, and it may be worse than the 1st

The doctor guiding us on a tour admitted a chilling fact: health workers here (including himself) are now treating patients knowing they themselves have COVID-19.



a group of people standing in a room: Health workers take care of patients suffering from the coronavirus disease in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for COVID-19 patients, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.


© Yves Herman/Reuters
Health workers take care of patients suffering from the coronavirus disease in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for COVID-19 patients, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.



a person taking a selfie in a room: A health worker looks on in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for patients suffering the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.


© Yves Herman/Reuters
A health worker looks on in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for patients suffering the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.

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It’s an ethical dilemma, but not a choice this doctor could make. He now tests negative, but he said if he and others like him do not continue working, the health system here would go under. The toll on health workers, already exhausted from the first wave, about to be exacerbated by the second.

Why is it so bad? COVID fatigue, he says. Belgium relaxed the measures that had kept the country safe and now are going to pay a price. Lots of testing, yes. But not so much tracing.

MORE: Further restrictions, curfews imposed in Europe as continent fights ‘second wave’ of coronavirus cases

But they have learned some important lessons from the first wave.



A health worker picks up utensils in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for patients suffering the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.


© Yves Herman/Reuters
A health worker picks up utensils in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for patients suffering the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.



a close up of a woman: A woman takes part in a demonstration at the hospital MontLegia, in Liege, gathering employees, and called by the Belgian trade union National Center of Employees, on Oct. 29, 2020 as the country faces a second wave of infections from COVID-19.


© John Thys/AFP via Getty Images
A woman takes part in a demonstration at the hospital MontLegia, in Liege, gathering employees, and called by the Belgian trade union National Center of Employees, on Oct. 29, 2020 as the country faces a second wave of infections from COVID-19.

We came across Florent, a 75-year-old man in the ICU who said

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