Ukraine bracing for third wave of Covid-19 infections Prime Minister warns, after turning down Russian offers of Sputnik V vaccine

Cases of coronavirus are again on the rise in Ukraine, the country’s Prime Minister Denis Shmigal has said, cautioning that another tough lockdown might be on the cards to prevent its beleaguered health system from collapsing.

Speaking to journalists on Thursday, the politician said that a rise in incidence statistics “cannot be hidden or interpreted in any other way.” In future, he claimed, “there may be a strict lockdown… if most of the regions become red zones, it will be necessary to return to the model of lockdowns that Ukraine has already gone through.”

“If we see that the medical system is becoming overloaded, and if more than 65% of beds in a region or in Ukraine as a whole are occupied, and supplies of medicine are limited, we will have no choice and we will do the same as other European countries have done.”

His comments come as the country reports its highest single-day increase in the number of cases this year, with 10,057 positive tests recorded. However, the fact that 3,271 people were admitted to hospital for treatment in the previous 24 hours suggests the true number of infections is far higher.

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Lagging behind much of the rest of Europe in starting up a national vaccine program, Ukraine began immunizations with doses of the Indian-made CoviShield jab, based on the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula. Its leadership had previously refused offers from neighboring Russia to begin shipments of Sputnik V, made by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute. Instead, Kiev lawmakers went as far as outlawing Russian-made jabs, with Shmigal signing a decree to that effect in February, despite limited options to access them from elsewhere.

Earlier that month, President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed the block was justified, claiming that Ukrainians should not become “rabbits” to be “experimented upon.” His claims were clearly about Sputnik V, despite conclusive trial data published in The Lancet medical journal last week demonstrating that the formula is safe, and is effective in more than 90 percent of cases.

In an analysis published by Bloomberg at the end of January, Ukraine was identified as one of only a few countries in Europe that have not yet begun immunizations, as its supplies of the jab “either haven’t been cleared for use or haven’t arrived.” By contrast, injections had already begun in the Donbass region, which is under the control of separatists who have sought support from Moscow.

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Kiev has had difficulties enforcing its national and local Covid-19 lockdowns, with a number of regional leaders refusing to close businesses and order the public to stay home. Mayors of major cities like Lvov and Nikolaev cited economic chaos caused by the pandemic and announced they would ignore directives from the central government.

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