The Malta Independent 4 December 2021, Saturday

Covid-19: New record numbers in Russia, Ukraine; surge persists in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia

Associated Press Saturday, 23 October 2021, 18:37 Last update: about 2 months ago

Russia is reporting a record high number of coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths as the country approaches a week of nonworking days aimed at stemming the sharp surge in cases.

The national coronavirus task force said Saturday that 1,075 people had died from the virus in the past day and that 37,678 new infections were tallied — the largest single-day numbers of the pandemic.

The daily death toll is about 33% higher than that recorded in late September and infection cases have risen by about 70% in the past month.

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Only about one-third of Russia’s 146 million people have been vaccinated, frustrating officials and placing a strain on the country’s health-care system.

Facing widespread resistance to vaccination, President Vladimir Putin has responded to the worsening situation by ordering Russians to stay away from work between Oct. 30 and Nov. 7.

Many regions are imposing additional restrictions, including closing gyms, theaters and sit-down service at restaurants or restricting them to customers who can show QR codes confirming that they are fully vaccinated.

Overall, Russia has recorded about 8.2 million cases of coronavirus infection and 229,528 deaths, according to the task force. However, that toll counts only deaths attributed directly to the virus; the national statistics service Rosstat has reported tens of thousands of deaths in which the virus was considered to be a contributing factor.

Russia was the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine, launching Sputnik V in August 2020, and has plentiful supplies. But uptake has been slow, blamed in part on conflicting signals from authorities.

While extolling Sputnik V and three other domestic vaccines, state-controlled media often criticized Western-made shots, a message that many saw as feeding doubts about vaccines in general.

Putin has deplored Russians’ vaccine hesitancy, saying that “there are just two options for everyone — to get sick, or receive a vaccine. And there is no way to walk between the raindrops.”

Asked if Russia could make vaccines mandatory, Putin said this week he believes they should remain voluntary.

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Ukraine's coronavirus infections and deaths reached all-time highs for a second straight day Friday, in a growing challenge for the country with one of Europe's lowest shares of vaccinated people.

Ukrainian health authorities reported 23,785 new confirmed infections and 614 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Authorities in the capital, Kyiv, shut schools for two weeks starting Friday, and similar measures were ordered in other areas with high contagion levels.

Authorities have blamed surging infections on a sluggish pace of vaccination in the nation of 41 million. Ukrainians can freely choose between Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines, but only about 15% of the population is fully vaccinated, Europe’s lowest level after Armenia.

Overall, the country has registered over 2.7 million infections and about 63,000 deaths.

The steep rise in contagion has prompted the government to tighten restrictions. Starting Thursday, proof of vaccination or a negative test is required to board planes, trains and long-distance buses.

In Rivne, 300 kilometers (190 miles) west of Kyiv, the city hospital is swamped with COVID-19 patients and doctors say the situation is worse than during the wave of infections early in the pandemic that severely strained the health system.

“The ... course of the disease is certainly more severe and more aggressive than last year. The patients have become younger,” said Valentyn Koroliuk, head of the hospital’s intensive-care unit. “Unfortunately, those patients who are in our department are not vaccinated.”

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Serbia on Saturday is set to launch partial COVID-19 passes while Croatia and Slovenia reported high daily rates of infections, as countries with low vaccination rates grapple with a persisting virus surge.

Serbia has seen thousands of news cases daily for weeks now and recorded more than 50 deaths each day, in the country of 7 million where about half of adults have been fully jabbed and tens of thousands have received booster doses.

On Saturday, authorities reported an additional 6,748 new infections in the past 24 hours and 60 fatalities from COVID-19. The Balkan nation has confirmed more than 1 million infections since the start of the pandemic and nearly 10,000 deaths.

Experts have harshly criticized the government decision to introduce COVID-19 passes for indoor spaces only from 10 p.m. They said the move was too little too late and that stricter measures are needed to curb the raging virus.

“It’s scandalous and far too late,” retired epidemiologist Zoran Radovanovic told N1 television.

Serbia’s government initially was reluctant to impose any measures, urging people to get vaccinated instead. Face masks have been obligatory indoors in the Balkan country but there have been no limits for gatherings or work at nightclubs, bars or restaurants.

Starting Saturday evening, visitors will have to provide COVID-19 passes showing evidence of vaccination, a negative test or that they have recovered from the disease in the past seven months. Officials said more than 2,000 inspections will control whether the new rules are being implemented.

The virus situation has been alarming also in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe where vaccination rates are lower than the European Union average. Romania has approved the tightening of rules from Monday as hospitals filled up and infections soared to record numbers.

Slovenia on Saturday said the number of confirmed daily cases has reached a nine-month high and a positivity rate of about 30% in the country of about 2 million people. Slovenia has fully vaccinated 53% of the population of 2 million. Just over 5,000 people have died of COVID-19.

Croatia too is reporting a surge in daily new cases to more than 3,500 over the past days — the daily number of confirmed cases has risen by 1,600 since last weekend, authorities said.

The government so far has imposed COVID-19 passes for the health and social service workers, but not the general population. Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic on Saturday called on citizens to vaccinate — Croatia’s vaccination rate also stands at around 50%.

“Vaccination is seen globally as the best solution and we must all help those citizens who still have doubts to decide in favor of it,” he said.

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