Coronavirus Global situation

Covid-19 cases in Eastern Europe cross 20 million as inoculations lag

BRUSSELS • The number of coronavirus infections recorded so far in Eastern Europe surpassed 20 million yesterday, according to a Reuters tally, as the region grapples with its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and inoculation efforts lag.

Countries in the region have the lowest vaccination rates in Europe, with less than half of the population having received a single dose.

Hungary tops the region's vaccination rates with 62 per cent of its population having gotten at least one shot, whereas Ukraine has given just 19 per cent of its residents a single dose, according to Our World in Data.

New infections in the region have steadily risen and now average over 83,700 new cases per day, the highest level since November last year, Reuters data till last Friday showed.

Although it has just 4 per cent of the world's population, Eastern Europe accounts for roughly 20 per cent of all new cases reported globally.

According to a Reuters analysis, three of the top five countries reporting the most deaths in the world are in Eastern Europe - Russia, Ukraine and Romania.

More social gatherings indoors after the lifting of restrictions just as winter sets in are driving a rise in Covid-19 infections in many countries across Europe, the World Health Organisation's emergency director Mike Ryan said last Thursday.

As the wave of infections intensifies, many people in Eastern Europe are torn between defiance and regret over not getting vaccinated.

Hundreds have protested in Sofia and other cities against mandatory certificates that came into force on Thursday, limiting access to many indoor public spaces to those who have been vaccinated.

A European Commission poll, the Eurobarometer, has shown that at least one in three people in most countries in the European Union's east does not trust the healthcare system, compared with a bloc average of 18 per cent.

More than 40 per cent of all new cases reported in Eastern Europe were in Russia, with 120 people testing positive every five minutes, according to a Reuters analysis.

The country's healthcare system is operating under great strain, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said last Wednesday. The nation on Friday reported record Covid-19 fatalities for the fourth straight day.

Doctors at Hospital No. 2 in the Russian city of Biysk in Siberia are having to cope with an unprecedented surge of coronavirus patients, many of whom are unvaccinated.

Doctors at the hospital have to work up to three 24-hour shifts in a row. The work is much harder than during the first wave of the pandemic last year, deputy chief doctor Olga Kaurova said.

"Last year we kept the numbers at 23 to 24 people. Today we have 65 people in intensive care," Dr Kaurova told Tolk Channel, a local media outlet, last Wednesday. "Most of our patients in the ICU (intensive care unit) are not vaccinated."

Younger patients were also being admitted more frequently, she said, citing a recent case of a 19-year-old woman dying.

With a population of just over 200,000, and located 3,000km south-east of Moscow, Biysk has become a hot spot in the Altai Krai region during a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases and deaths.

Despite developing its own Covid-19 vaccine called Sputnik V early in the pandemic, Russia has vaccinated only about a third of its population, one of the lowest rates in Europe, with citizens citing distrust of the authorities and new medical products.

Although it is being used in dozens of countries, Sputnik V is not approved by the European Union or the World Health Organisation.

Moscow, the country's most populous city and capital, will next week shut down all businesses except essential stores such as supermarkets and pharmacies to stem the spread of the disease.

Slovakia reported 3,480 new Covid-19 cases last Tuesday, its highest daily tally since March, its Health Ministry data showed on Wednesday.

The country has one of the lower vaccination rates in the EU, with just over half of the adult population fully inoculated in the country of 5.5 million. This has contributed to a faster rise in infections than in some neighbouring countries.

In Romania, hospitals are stretched to breaking point, with emergency beds fully occupied across the country. Morgues are also running at full capacity.

The country reported record numbers of daily coronavirus fatalities and infections last Tuesday. The virus is killing one person every five minutes on average this month in a country where the inoculation rate is low.

Ukraine registered a record daily high of new coronavirus infections and related deaths for the second consecutive day on Friday. It also extended a state of emergency that allows the authorities to impose curbs until the year end to rein in infections.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2021, with the headline 'Covid-19 cases in Eastern Europe cross 20 million as inoculations lag'. Subscribe