Bolivian doctors demand lockdown as COVID surge threatens health service 'collapse'

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivian doctors are demanding a nationwide lockdown and threatening to stop taking in new patients as a surge in COVID-19 cases, which they say is killing an average of one medic per day, strains hospitals to breaking point.

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New daily coronavirus infections in the Andean country, which received its first batch of Russian Sputnik V vaccines on Thursday, hit a single-day record of 2,866 this week and deaths attributed to the epidemic climbed above 10,000.

“At the rate we are going, there will be a total collapse,” said Ricardo Landivar, a director of the La Paz Medical College. “… We are going to have patients dying in the streets without being able to be treated by medical staff.”

Health workers’ and doctors’ unions are demanding that leftist President Luis Arce return to lockdown until the current COVID wave – Bolivia’s second – passes.

But the government has been reluctant to further undermine the landlocked country’s already reeling economy.

Arce, due to be one of the first in the country to get inoculated with Sputnik V, has said the arrival of the Russian vaccine can help Bolivians “breathe a bit easier”.

Medical union leaders however point to the high fatality rate – confirmed COVID cases in the nation of 11.5 million stand at around 210,000 – and say that every day more than one doctor or health worker loses their life.

In cities, hospitals are often visibly crowded inside and out, with signs on doors and walls warning: “no room for new patients” and “the emergency units have collapsed”.

“Doctors are dying day by day,” said Patricia Almanza, a doctor at the Hospital Petrolero in La Paz.

“The previous week seven doctors died, yesterday another doctor died and today another… and the government does not want to order a quarantine not even for fifteen days… because it is more interested in the economy.”

Bolivia’s government has agreements for a combined 15 million doses of Sputnik V, the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine and others via the international COVAX mechanism co-managed by the World Health Organization.

It will start vaccinations of frontline workers with the first 20,000 doses of Sputnik V.

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