MOSCOW: Alexei Karzin, head of a 20-bed intensive care unit in a Moscow hospital, felt a sense of relief when his unit stopped treating COVID-19 patients in early September and could get back to looking after stroke victims. His relief was short-lived.
Three weeks later, he turned his ward back into a "red zone" after the hospital struggled to cope with a sudden influx of coronavirus patients.
"I knew, of course, there would be some increase in infected people," said Karzin, sitting at his desk at Moscow Hospital Number 52. "But we didn't expect it to be this sharp and to involve such high numbers."
On Friday, Russia's new daily infections for the first time exceeded the peak of the outbreak in May and reached a new record of 12,126 cases.
Karzin, who contracted the virus during the first wave, said the only time off he had taken this year was spent looking after his elderly parents who also got COVID-19.
"I have no emotions anymore. There's nothing good in it, it's sad. We sleep and dream about seeing it over one day," he said.
Hospital Number 52 has nearly 1,000 beds and focused on mainly treating COVID-19 patients throughout the summer when dozens of other medical facilities in Moscow reverted to previous working patterns.
The Russian capital has dealt with more than a quarter of Russia's 1.3 million coronavirus cases so far.
The second wave of the outbreak has so far not hit the hospital as hard as the first one, said Marina Cheremukhina, head of its admissions department.
In April, the highest daily number of new patients was 150. That number recently crept up to 95 on one day, but the average is 60-70 a day, around 10 per cent of whom are in a serious condition, Cheremukhina said.
Nadezhda Belova, 71, said she was hospitalised because she is in an at risk group and requires kidney dialysis.
Another patient, 81-year-old Anatoliy Radchenko, said he was diagnosed with the coronavirus when he visited a doctor with another health issue. He coughed loudly as he spoke.
"My wife has the same problem ... She is coughing worse than me ... It's the scariest thing for me now, if she leaves me," he said.
There are no patients being treated who have contracted the coronavirus for a second time, Sergei Tsarenko, the hospital's deputy chief doctor, said.
Many of the new patients are elderly and who had successfully isolated themselves during the first wave.
"They went out onto the streets, they are in touch with their children and grandchildren, school students," Tsarenko said.
Russia imposed a partial lockdown last spring, but reopened schools in September. When coronavirus cases began to rise, Moscow's mayor announced a two-week holiday for schools.
"I am hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. I hope we will be done by February, but we are preparing for the next one and a half years," Tsarenko said.
So far, fewer people were needing intensive care compared to the spring, he said.
Reuters visited three intensive care units. One was full, one had a third of its beds empty and one was half-empty.
A doctor working in one of them tried to cheer up a 64-year-old patient who was intubated and unable to talk. "Let's agree, no crying," she told him.