Ukraine records 50% spike in coronavirus cases

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine recorded a 50% increase Thursday in daily new COVID-19 infections, a day after authorities launched the country’s vaccination campaign.

Health Minister Maxim Stepanov said 8,147 confirmed new infections were recorded over the past 24 hours, up from 5,424 a day earlier. He did not speculate on the cause of the spike, but said the country so far has not detected the presence of the more contagious British virus variant.

The surge is alarming for the country whose understaffed medical system is already struggling to treat COVID-19 patients, particularly in the hard-hit western regions where cases rose significantly after a two-week lockdown in January.

Ukraine launched its vaccination campaign on Wednesday after receiving 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that was manufactured in India.

Ukraine expects to receive more doses of vaccine through the UN-supported COVAX distribution program, including those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax. The country also signed an agreement to purchase 1.9 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech.

Ukraine plans to vaccinate 14.4 million people this year, or about 35% of its 41 million people.

Overall in the pandemic, Ukraine has recorded more than 1.3 million infections and 25,596 deaths.

The number of deaths from coronavirus in the regional hospital in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, 430 kilometers (270 miles) southwest of the capital, Kyiv, has doubled over the past two weeks, the head of the pathological department of the hospital Volodymyr Vasylyk told The Associated Press.

In the past 24 hours alone, 10 people died from COVID-19 in the hospital, compared with five or six a day two weeks ago.

Six of the hospital’s doctors are ill with the virus and one doctor has died.

“The situation is quite tense,” said Vasylyk.

“I hope that vaccination will bring down the surge in morbidity and mortality,” added Vasilyk.

But opinion polls show that about 40% of Ukrainians refuse to get vaccinated.

“Even many employees of our hospital are afraid of being vaccinated, but we are carrying out explanatory work,” said Serhiy Tsyntar, head physician of the regional hospital in the city of Chernivtsi, 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of Kyiv. “Only 30% of the staff want to be vaccinated.”

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Mstyslav Chernov in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, contributed to this story.

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