Local Bosnian authorities are pleading for more resources to help the health system as the country battles a surge in infections with no vaccination drive in sight.

Bosnian medical staff member helps a patient infected with the novel coronavirus, at Sarajevo's General hospital, on March 19, 2021.
Bosnian medical staff member helps a patient infected with the novel coronavirus, at Sarajevo's General hospital, on March 19, 2021. (AFP)

A fresh spike in coronavirus cases has pushed Bosnia and Herzegovina's healthcare system into disarray as the country battles one of the world's highest fatality rates amid a shortage of vaccines.

Capital Sarajevo's main Covid-19 hospital recalled all available staff from holidays after declaring a "state of emergency" on Monday, said director Sebija Izetbegovic.

"The staff is exhausted," Izetbegovic wrote on Facebook.

"We will continue to do what is possible to save lives, but the situation is really critical. More and more of our employees are sick."

Bosnia is among 10 countries with the highest Covid-19 deaths per one million population, trailing behind the Czech Republic, Belgium, Slovenia, Hungary and the UK. 

READ MORE: WHO: Unequal vaccine distribution a 'moral outrage'

Bosnia's federation of Bosnia Herzegovina has not started a vaccination drive due to a shortage of vaccines. Only Republika Srpska or the Serb Republic has launched its drive where the elderly have started getting their shots.

Serbia donated 5,000 doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccines early in March.

The first batch of 23,400 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines that Bosnia had ordered under the COVAX scheme for poorer countries is expected to arrive on Wednesday. Turkey has offered 30,000 doses.

Epicentre of infections

The Balkan country of about 3.3 million reported a record daily number of deaths from Covid-19, 73, and 818 new coronavirus cases, health authorities said on Monday.

Of the new cases, 568 were recorded in Sarajevo, which has this month become an epicentre of infections and deaths, with an average daily number of 699 coronavirus cases in the last week.

While Sarajevo imposed a stricter night curfew on March 19 and closed cafes and restaurants for two weeks on March 13, the country's Serb Republic imposed new restrictions from Monday, prompting peaceful protests across the region.

Sarajevo has mourned dozens of victims this month.

“This is a war without weapons,” an elderly resident who identified himself only by his first name, Hajrudin, said last week.

In the streets, lines of death notices were placed on the main mosque and people cried as they prayed in the old part of the city thousands of whose residents were killed during a wartime siege in 1992-95.

Another Sarajevan, Ekrem, said the situation was a “catastrophe.”

Experts say this is partly because Bosnia's health system remains weak decades after the war.

The mounting numbers of patients in recent days has put pressure on Sarajevo hospitals, with the main one — the University Clinic — warning it is running out of space.

The Sarajevo morgue, too, has been overwhelmed. Coffins containing bodies of Covid-19 victims are lined up on the concrete floor as workers in protective suits spray them with disinfectant. At a cemetery on the outskirts of the city, lines of freshly dug graves can be seen.

At the Sarajevo General Hospital, doctor Bilal Oglecevac, said his team's work is like a constant war against the virus.

“Sometimes we win the battles, sometimes, unfortunately we lose,” he said.

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Protests against restrictions

Shouting “Down with measures,” several hundred people gathered in the northern town of Banja Luka demanding that the state help owners of bars, restaurants and other businesses affected by the situation.

Authorities in the Serb entity in Bosnia have shut down ski resorts and food and drink spots to curb the surge as doctors warned the situation is alarming and hospitals are running out of beds.

A group of public figures from the half of Bosnia run by the country’s Bosniaks and Croats, said they have sued the top government officials over their failure to acquire vaccines in time.

READ MORE: AstraZeneca US data shows vaccine safe and effective for all age groups

Turkish doctors assist

Last week, two Turkish doctors arrived in Bosnia's capital to assist in the country’s efforts against the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Bilgin Sait, head of the Covid-19 centre at the American Hospital in Istanbul, and Dr Siran Keske, an infectious diseases specialist at the same facility, worked with staff at the Sarajevo General Hospital.

They delivered lectures detailing their experiences in treating virus patients and guide doctors and medical workers on the treatment of the disease.

The Turkish doctors arrived at the invitation of Haris Vranic, the health minister of Sarajevo Canton, who requested them to visit the 181 Covid-19 patients being treated at the hospital.

READ MORE: Germany honors Turkish-Germans behind Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

Source: TRTWorld and agencies