While Ukraine is under attack by Russia, Ukraine’s civilian population is also under siege from the coronavirus, a situation only likely to worsen.
The fighting in Ukraine’s east is forcing a mass migration to the west that is crowding mass transit centers and trains and jamming roads. The large number of Ukrainians who are moving show no sign of covering their faces, even though the country is still recovering from a record-breaking infection rate.
According to Dr. Eric S. Toner of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the coronavirus outlook for people fleeing fighting is grim.
“They’re quite vulnerable, and as people huddle together, either sheltering or evacuating in crowded buses, trains and cars, maybe in hotels and refugee camps, it’s going to cause a reversal of the progress,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “They can’t maintain distance and don’t have access to masks.”
Many people are heading to smaller towns and villages, or crossing the border into Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, and the flow of refugees will likely affect those countries’ pandemic situations, too.
Senior officials from the Biden administration claim that between one and five million Ukrainians could seek safety in another part of the country or in neighboring nations. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees stated that it was expanding its operations in Ukraine, and other countries, on Thursday.
Dr. Toner said that he expected Ukraine’s neighbors to see a rise in their Covid case numbers and additional stress on their health care systems from refugees, but those problems will be worse inside Ukraine.
“They’re going to be caring for Covid patients, along with war victims,” he said. “They’re going to be understaffed because of the war, and it’s going to harm their chances of keeping patients in isolation or have social distancing. It’s going to be a mess.”
According to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project, Ukraine reports an average of 26,000 new cases per day or 63 new cases for every 100,000 people. Only about one-third of Ukraine’s 44 million people are fully inoculated against the coronavirus, though Ukrainian officials said this month that the army had a 99 percent vaccination rate.
According to the Our World in Data project, Russia is the only country that has not fully vaccinated half of its population. It is also facing an Omicron surge. The country has recorded an average of 160,000 new Omicron cases in the last seven days, which is 111 cases per 100,000 people.
Ukraine does not recognize Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, while Russia does not recognize the Western-manufactured vaccines administered in Ukraine.
The Russian invasion is also likely to hurt Ukraine’s ability to track the virus, Dr. Toner said. If the county’s data becomes unreliable, that would be a particularly important loss for epidemiologists because the country is in the heart of Eastern Europe.
“I would suspect that we’re going to stop getting a lot of data from Ukraine,” Dr. Toner said. “The hospitals and local health departments are not going to have that as a priority. ”
Source: NY Times