German doctors help battle COVID-19 in Romania | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 23.07.2020
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German doctors help battle COVID-19 in Romania

Romania has seen a record recent surge in coronavirus infections. To help deal with the situation, a team of German doctors have traveled the city of Brasov.

Dr. Thushira Weerawarna already had experience treating French COVID-19 patients at Pforzheim's Siloah hospital in southwestern Germany. Now, he and his team from the pulmonary department have crossed European borders themselves, having relocated to the Romanian city of Brasov to help in the fight against coronavirus.

His commitment to Romania began before travel restrictions were lifted. Weerawarna donated money to Pforzheim's German-Romanian Association, which is lead by Brasov native Oana Krichbaum. With the help of such donations, the society this week delivered €120,000 ($139,000) worth of medical equipment to Brasov hospital.

But the help is not a one-way street, Weerawarna told DW. He and his team benefit from the experience of his Romanian peers. "If we'd only work individually in our individual countries, we'd be alone with our problems in Germany, and the Romanians alone with theirs over here." But the structure of the European Union, he says, eases the transfer of aid.

Read more: Romanian farmworkers stuck in Germany during pandemic

Learning from each other

German lawmaker Gunther Krichbaum of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), meanwhile, thinks this European framework still needs improvement. Kirchbaum, who heads the German parliament's European Affaris committee, traveled with his wife Oana and Dr. Weerawarna's team to Romania. "At the start of the crisis, there was little sense of European solidarity," he told DW. He says most member states thought they had to weather the pandemic on their own. Which, he says, "was a major mistake.

"Countries like Spain, Italy and France were initially left to their own devices," he said "Now, things have changed."

The problem, according to Krichbaum, is that the European Commission has very little basis on which to act. "There is no common EU health policy, as opposed to agriculture for example," he said. "That is why member states must transfer some of these powers to the EU so it can take decisive action in this field going forward."

Dr. Thushira Weerawarna (center) and lawmaker Gunther Krichbaum (2nd from right) at the hospital in Brasov

Dr. Thushira Weerawarna (center) and lawmaker Gunther Krichbaum (2nd from right) at the hospital in Brasov

Brasov hospital's COVID-19 ward was established immediately after the virus outbreak. So far, 123 patients have received treatment there. Now, Doctor Thushira Weerawarna and his team are there working alongside their Romanian colleagues. "It's great to see how motivated and inquisitive the Romanian doctors are," Weerawarna says.

Together, they take care of Romanian patients and attend workshops to share insights. This is something Dr. Cristina Vecerdi, who runs the hospital's emergency room, greatly appreciates.

"During the pandemic, we'd been pretty much isolated. But now, we've got two teams of doctors with different experiences," she told DW. "This German team of medics are sharing their know-how and equipment, which greatly expands our diagnostic capabilities. And that helps us reduce the aftereffects of the infection."

Read more: Oxford coronavirus vaccine: Will it provide lasting immunity?

Watch video 05:28

Romania: Villages in Panic

Romanian infection spike

Both Romania and Germany are still in the very early stages of understanding and learning how to treat this novel virus, says Dr. Thushira Weerawarna. The World Health Organization and a range of medical journals are currently disseminating the latest insights on the virus. Additionally, experts are offering webinars for medical staff. Even so, nothing is as effective as real world experience and talking to your peers, says Dr. Cristina Vecerdi. "Combining the lessons learned from the Pforzheim team, who partly apply different diagnostic methods to us, is in the interest of the patients — and the wider scientific community," she told DW.

Romania has seen a recent spike in coronavirus infections. On Thursday, the country's authorities reported a record 1,112 infections in 24 hours. The Brasov region is one of the worst-hit. Since the pandemic first started, Romania has seen 2,126 coronavrius-related deaths. Despite these figures, some people in Romania claim the virus does not actually exist, or is basically harmless.

But conspiracy theorists and skeptics don't discourage Dr. Weerawarna. "You've got those kinds of people everywhere, in all countries," he says. "It's a normal human reaction to blame someone else when things happen you don't understand, or if you feel unduly restricted." He says he is not interested in the origin of the virus. All that matters to him is "healing people." 

"It will take a long time until we've weathered this pandemic," warns Dr. Cristina Vecerdi, who each day witnesses first hand the grim consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infections. "Our official data is accurate, now it's important we find a proper way to deal with the crisis — both doctors and society at large," says Vecerdi. She is confident that if people stick to a few simple rules, like wearing a mask and regularly washing their hands, "fewer COVID-19 patients will end up in a critical condition on our intensive care units."

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