This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient, emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink) cultured in the lab. Credit: NIAID-RML

While the initial coronavirus peak is starting to pass—in Europe, at least—without the ventilator shortages many feared, the spectre of a second wave or future outbreak means questions of medical rationing still hold sway.

New research suggests that current ICU protocols and ethical guidelines lack detail, and leave doctors exposed to legal liability if another contagion surge forces them to make painful snap decisions due to insufficient resources.