Coronavirus infections and deaths in Ukraine rose to record highs on Thursday amid a lagging rate of vaccination, with overall inoculations among the lowest in Europe.
Ukrainian authorities reported 22,415 new confirmed infections and 546 deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest figures since the start of the pandemic.
Authorities have attributed an increase in infections to the nation’s slow rate of vaccination of 41 million. Ukrainians can choose between the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines, but only about 15% of the population is fully vaccinated, the lowest level in Europe after Armenia.
Overall, the country has recorded more than 2.7 million infections and 62,389 deaths.
Ukraine has faced a steady increase in contagion in recent weeks, forcing the government to introduce restrictions on access to public places and the use of public transport. Starting Thursday, proof of vaccination or a negative test is required to board long-distance planes, trains, and buses.
The restrictive measures have sparked a black market for counterfeit vaccination certificates, and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy chaired a meeting earlier this week on ways to combat the practice. Police said they suspect workers at 15 hospitals across the country are involved in issuing false vaccination certificates.
Despite the growing contagion, the government has been reluctant to introduce another blockade. He is keen to avoid further damage to an economy weakened by conflict with neighboring Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and supported the separatist insurgency in the industrial heartland of the east of the country.
“There are only two ways: vaccination or confinement,” Zelenskyy said. “I am against the blockade for the good of (the) economy.”
To encourage vaccination, authorities have started offering injections in shopping malls. As infections increased, skeptical attitudes began to change and a record number of more than 251,000 people received vaccinations in the past 24 hours.
“I am scared by an increase in infections, my friend is in a hospital in serious condition,” said 38-year-old businessman Denys Onuchko after receiving the first dose of the vaccine in a Kiev shopping center.
Onuchko noted that many Ukrainians have been misinformed by conspiracy theories about vaccines, but are now taking a more rational approach as the situation worsens. “People have been scared by the stories … but the real threat must bring them back,” he said.
Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the city’s hospitals are facing an influx of patients, an increasing proportion of them in serious condition.
Yulia Furman, 47, who also received the first injection of the vaccine, said that many people in her entourage believed in conspiracy theories about vaccines.
“Many of my friends believed those stories about a global plot and now they are seriously ill, now is the time to protect yourself,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism