Belgium is running out of intensive care beds as the number of critically ill people doubles every eight days amid a coronavirus “tsunami”.
Hospitals are under such pressure that in one city doctors who have tested positive to COVID-19 are being told to keep working.
The US has the highest number of virus infections (and deaths) followed by India, Brazil, Russia and France.
The picture is unrelentingly grim across Europe, with the continent this week passing 250,000 COVID-19 fatalities.
A string of countries has recently reported record increases, led by France, which posted more than 50,000 daily cases for the first time on Sunday (local time).
Based on population, Belgium – a country of 11 million – has Europe’s second highest per capital infection rate after the Czech Republic. There have been 1288 new COVID-19 infections for every 100,000 Belgians in the past week.
With 10,810 total deaths, the tiny country has one of the world’s highest per capita coronavirus death rates.
The numbers represent an almost 10-fold increase from the high of the northern spring wave of the pandemic.
Officials said on Tuesday morning (Australian time) the country could run out of beds in intensive care units within two weeks if the number of people in hospitals continued to increase at its current rate.
In Liège, a French-speaking city south-east of the capital Brussels, doctors from 10 hospitals been told to keep coming to work if they have the virus but have no obvious symptoms.
About a quarter of medical staff there are off sick with COVID, the BBC reports. Roughly a third of residents tested in the city are also confirmed to have been infected.
The head of the Belgian Association of Medical Unions told the BBC hospitals had no choice if they were to prevent the medical system collapsing within days.
Dr Philippe Devos acknowledged that there was an obvious risk of transferring the virus to patients.
“Within four days, by the end of the week, we should pass the milestone of 1000 patients in intensive care,” Mr Van Laethem said.
“If the curve doesn’t change with our behaviour, we should reach 2000 patients in intensive care in two weeks, our maximum capacity.”
The Belgian government ordered all bars, cafes and restaurants to close and imposed a nightly curfew from Monday, while working from home was made obligatory where possible.
While Australia’s weather warms up, Europeans are preparing to enter winter. With the cold has come the fresh threat of another wave of coronavirus infections.
It’s led many countries to tighten restrictions, with leaders imposing rules similar to those which have been effective in curbing Victoria’s numbers.
Italy, the country worst hit in the early stages of the crisis in March, imposed new curbs on Monday, ordering restaurants and bars to close from 6pm. Local curfews have been imposed in several regions.
In France, a curfew has applied in two-thirds of the country since Saturday.
Leaders of Victoria, which had Australia’s toughest lockdown laws, had faced intense pressure for their COVID-19 policies.
But some experts have pointed to the surge in Europe as an example of why the state government made the right decision to lock down.