The number of Ukrainian cases of coronavirus has exceeded one million, which pushed the country near the dark border, while its dilapidated health system is struggling to stop the pre-holiday sudden increase in the disease.
Although they mobilized their resources when the disease first hit in March, including the establishment of special wards and the retraining of health workers to treat patients with Covid-19, hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed. The government of President Vladimir Zelensky also tried to cross the thin line between fighting the virus without repeating the economic damage caused by the severe spring blockade.
The former Soviet state with 42 million people reported 11,490 new cases on Thursday, for a total of 1,001,131, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said on Facebook. The death toll rose by 223 to 17,395.
“The health care system is under extreme strain,” said Lotta Sylwander, Ukraine’s representative at Unicef, the UN agency that is the world’s leading vaccine company. “It’s going to get worse and worse.”
As of last week, only about a third of the 63,680 beds available for coronavirus patients were vacant, but that is too few for new cases, according to Unicef. Another issue is the “huge need” for oxygen and more qualified staff. Hospitals are also struggling to provide protection to doctors and nurses, hundreds of whom have died from the virus.
“Nurses are overworked, overworked and often have to make decisions that should be made by well-informed and highly trained doctors,” Sylwander said. “The burden of Covid strains must be borne by nurses and nursing aids.”
Ukraine will tighten its restrictions on social exclusion in about two weeks, starting on January 8 after Orthodox Christmas.
The government imposed mild social restrictions during the autumn, despite a sharp increase in the number of cases, and enforcement was weak. To avoid a complete economic blockade, the government instead focused on adding more hospital beds.
But it is a “dangerous strategy,” according to Pavel Kovtonyuk, head of the economic department of health care at the Kiev School of Economics. “This is not an unlimited resource, and the number of beds does not mean that there is always real help where it is most needed.”
Ukraine is also testing the lowest number of people per capita for the virus in Europe, according to Sylwander. Authorities usually only register cases of those who are already obviously ill, Kovtonyuk said.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told parliament last week that the rise in new cases had reached a high level, while Zelenskiy said the situation looked more positive. But without locks and weak testing, authorities have no way to stop the spread of the infection and there are likely to be many more cases than officially announced, according to Kovtonyuk and Sylwander.
“Given that testing is small and there is no search, there are probably many more cases than official ones,” Sylwander said.