Ukraine urges citizens to get vaccinated as daily COVID toll hits record

A health worker stands near an ambulance carring a COVID-19 patient, as they wait in the queue at a hospital for people infected with the coronavirus disease in Kyiv, Ukraine October 18, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

KYIV, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Ukraine's health minister urged more people to get their COVID-19 shots as coronavirus deaths hit a daily record of 734 on Tuesday, with hospitalisations up more than a fifth on the previous week.

One of Europe's poorest countries, Ukraine fell behind in the race for vaccine supplies this year and so far only around 7 million in a population of 41 million are fully vaccinated.

It is one of several countries in former communist eastern Europe, where vaccination rates are the continent's lowest, now experiencing a record-setting wave of infections with some of the highest death rates in the world.

In a bid to combat vaccine hesitancy, Ukraine has made vaccinations compulsory for some government employees such as teachers. The unvaccinated face restrictions on access to restaurants, sports and other public events.

The new regulations appear to have had an effect - 1.5 million Ukrainians got either a first or second shot last week, twice as many as the week before. Long queues have been seen at some vaccination centres, though some Kyiv residents told Reuters they did not want to get the vaccine unless their jobs forced them to do so.

Half of the country's regions have tightened lockdown restrictions after falling into the "red zone" classification.

At the Kyiv hospital number 3, all the beds designated for COVID-19 patients were occupied, the head of the hospital's infectious diseases department, Tetyana Mykhailevska, said.

"Compared to the previous wave, the patients are younger, with a more severe and a faster course of the disease," Mykhailevska told Reuters.

"While during the previous waves we were able to influence the course of the disease at least partially, now, unfortunately, we are almost powerless because drugs which we used to use for such patients do not stop the process."

Health Minister Viktor Lyashko told a briefing that 94% of patients requiring hospital treatment were not vaccinated. Two thirds of beds with oxygen supplies were occupied.

"The situation with hospitalisations is getting rampant," Lyashko said. "I call on all of you to get your vaccine. We can and must stop these sad statistics."

Ukraine has registered a total of 2.8 million coronavirus cases and 64,936 deaths since the start of the pandemic. After a lull in the summer, the daily rate of new cases has jumped to around 16,000-20,000 in recent weeks, including 19,120 in the past day.

The countries with the lowest vaccination rates in Europe are almost all located in the east, including both former Soviet states such as Russia and Ukraine and ex-communist members of the EU such as Romania and Bulgaria.

Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Sergiy Karazy and Stanislav Kozlyuk; Editing by Matthias Williams, Peter Graff and Nick Macfie

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