It has been more than a year since the coronavirus first emerged and there are no signs of the pandemic slowing down. We look at how hospitals struggle to cope with record surges in patients.

A mobile field hospital is shown outside UCI Medical Center during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Orange, California, US, January 4, 2021.
A mobile field hospital is shown outside UCI Medical Center during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Orange, California, US, January 4, 2021. (Reuters)

Hospitals all around the world are beginning to buckle under the strain of coronavirus and sharply increasing infection rates as experts warn that health systems in several countries are falling apart.

Authorities are adopting temporary solutions including makeshift wards and field hospitals to help a collapsing healthcare system to cope with a surge in Covid-19 cases.

For months, California did many of the right things to avoid a catastrophic surge from the pandemic. But by the time Governor Gavin Newsom said on December 15 that 5,000 body bags were being distributed, it was clear that the US' most populous state had entered a new phase of the Covid-19 crisis.

Now infections have been racing out of control for weeks, and California remains at or near the top of the list of states with the most new cases per capita. It has routinely set new marks for infections and deaths, and began the new year reporting a record 585 deaths in a single day.

Experts say a variety of factors combined to wipe out the past efforts, which for much of the year held the virus to manageable levels. Cramped housing, travel and Thanksgiving gatherings contributed to the spread, along with the public's fatigue amid regulations that closed many schools and businesses and encouraged, or required, an isolated lifestyle.

Another factor could be a more contagious variant of the virus detected in Southern California, although it's not clear yet how widespread that may be.

In California, the southern half of the state has seen the worst effects, from the agricultural San Joaquin Valley to the Mexico border. Hospitals are swamped with patients, and intensive care units have no more beds for Covid-19 patients. Some hospitals are having difficulty keeping up with the demand for oxygen.

Hospitalisations statewide have gone up more than eightfold in two months and nearly tenfold in Los Angeles County. On Thursday, the total number of California deaths surpassed 25,000, joining only New York and Texas at that milestone.

READ MORE: What do we know about the new coronavirus strains?

Lebanon's hospitals under strain

Lebanon announced a full lockdown for three weeks, including a night curfew, to stem a rise in Covid-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals in a country already facing financial meltdown.

Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan said the lockdown would start on Thursday and run until February 1, with further details on Tuesday on which sectors would be exempt.

The lockdown will include a curfew from 6 pm to 5 am (1500GMT to 0200 GMT).

"It has become clear that the pandemic challenge has reached a stage that is seriously threatening Lebanese lives as hospitals are not capable of providing beds," Hasan told reporters after a meeting of the ministerial committee on Covid-19.

Lebanon registered 2,870 new infections on Sunday, bringing its total to 189,278 cases and 1,486 deaths since February 21.

The new lockdown comes amid concerns over soaring unemployment, inflation and poverty.

Intensive care units had previously reached critical capacity over the summer as the virus spread after a massive explosion at the docks wrecked swathes of Beirut, killed 200 people and destroyed several hospitals.

"It is a big problem. In the next ten days it will be very difficult and we are expecting death rates to increase as infections rise," Mahmoud Hassoun, head of the critical care unit at Rafik Hariri hospital, told Reuters.

"We are nearly full now and we haven't even seen the effect of the holiday period yet."

UK to reopen field hospitals

Britain is making preparations in case London is overwhelmed by Covid infections, health minister Matt Hancock said, saying a so-called "Nightingale" field hospital will be ready to relieve pressure on the health service.

Projections leaked to the Health Service Journal showed that even if the number of Covid-19 patients increased at the lowest rate considered likely, London hospitals would be short of nearly 2,000 acute and intensive beds by January 19.

Asked about the projections, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was concerned about the pressures on the National Health Service (NHS) and the government was putting extra resources into the parts of the country under the most significant strain.

"For instance in London, (we're) making sure that the Nightingale hospital is on standby and there, if needed. And if it is needed, of course, then it will be used," he said, referring to a field hospital that was set up at the start of the pandemic.

With more than 50,000 new daily cases of Covid-19, the health service said it was preparing for an anticipated rush of patients and needed more beds.

The announcement comes just days after the Royal London Hospital told staff in an email it was now in "disaster medicine mode" and unable to provide high standard critical care.

With the capital one of the areas worst-hit by the new variant, which is up to 70 percent more infectious, the government also decided to close all London primary schools, reversing its previous decision.

A Sky News report said intensive care units of three London hospitals were full on New Year's Eve, forcing patients to be transferred to other hospitals for critical care.

READ MORE: Johnson: UK likely to see more stringent measures to control virus

Peru and Bolivia see hospitals overflow

The critical-care wards of major hospitals in Peru and Bolivia stand at or near collapse after end-of-year holidays, reflecting wider regional public health capacity concerns as much of Latin America struggles to secure adequate Covid-19 vaccine supplies.

While infection counts remain below last year's peak, depleted resources, weary medical workers and a recent rush of severe cases are taxing already ailing healthcare systems from Chile to Mexico, officials say.

In Bolivia, long lines of patients seeking tests snaked along the street outside a hospital complex in the Andean city of La Paz, prompting fears of worsening contagion amid the chaos.

"How can we not see another massive outbreak if we're all standing here together and no one knows who has Covid?" said Rocio Gonzalez as she waited for medical attention.

In neighboring Peru, hospitals in the capital, Lima, and nearby Callao, which together service a population of 10 million, had only 16 ICU beds with ventilators available early this week, according to a report from the Peruvian Ombudsman's Office. Farther north along the coast, hospitals were full, the report said.

"We're now paying for the behaviour of the past few weeks," Fernando Padilla, a regional health chief in northern Peru, told reporters.

He said Peruvians had become too relaxed, failing to take proper precautions to avoid contagion.

The daily caseload in Peru remains at just 20 percent of its August peak, but authorities say more people have been hospitalised because many are waiting until symptoms are severe to take tests.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies