Coronavirus infections and deaths in Ukraine hit record highs for the second day in a row on Friday, in a growing challenge for the country with one of the lowest proportions of people vaccinated in Europe.
Health authorities in Ukraine reported 23,785 new confirmed infections and 614 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Authorities in the capital Kiev closed schools for two weeks starting Friday and similar measures were ordered in other areas with high levels of contagion.
Authorities have attributed the rise in infections to the slow rate of vaccination in the nation of 41 million people. Ukrainians are free to 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 around 63,000 deaths.
The sharp increase in contagion has led the government to tighten restrictions. Starting Thursday, proof of vaccination or a negative test is required to board long-distance planes, trains, and buses.
In Rivne, 300 kilometers (190 miles) west of Kiev, the city hospital is flooded with COVID-19 patients and doctors say the situation is worse than during the wave of infections at the beginning of the pandemic that affected seriously to the health system.
“The… course of the disease is certainly more severe and more aggressive than last year. The patients have gotten younger, ”said Valentyn Koroliuk, head of the hospital’s intensive care unit. “Unfortunately, the patients in our department are not vaccinated.”
Lilia Serdiuk, 61, is battling COVID-19 and regrets hearing the calls to get vaccinated.
“I didn’t believe it, I didn’t even want to watch the news,” he told The Associated Press as he lay on his back on a narrow bed. “This disease exists and it is very terrible. I wish everyone would listen to the news and the doctors’ recommendations ”.
The hospital is close to capacity and doctors fear that the wave of patients will increase.
“What if there are even more patients? What if we don’t have enough oxygen? This is constant stress, ”said Dr. Tetiana Pasichnyk.
A black market in forged vaccination certificates has flourished amid the restrictions, and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy chaired a meeting earlier this week on ways to combat the illegal practice.
Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky said police have opened 800 criminal cases related to the use of such certificates, adding that the ministry deployed 100 mobile units to locate their holders, who would face severe punishment.
He said a former lawmaker, Nadiya Savchenko, submitted a false proof of vaccination when she returned to Ukraine on Friday.
Police said they suspect workers at 15 hospitals across the country are involved in issuing false vaccination certificates.
To encourage vaccination, authorities have started offering vaccines in shopping malls. As infections increased, skeptical attitudes began to change and a record number of more than 270,000 people received vaccinations in the past 24 hours.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism