Ukraine sees new record high in virus deaths, infections

Kyiv: Ukraine's coronavirus infections and deaths reached all-time highs for a second straight day Friday, in a growing challenge for the country with one of Europe's lowest shares of vaccinated people.

Ukrainian health authorities reported 23,785 new confirmed infections and 614 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Authorities in the capital, Kyiv, shut schools for two weeks starting Friday, and similar measures were ordered in other areas with high contagion levels.

Authorities have blamed surging infections on a sluggish pace of vaccination in the nation of 41 million. Ukrainians can freely choose between Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines, but only about 15% of the population is fully vaccinated, Europe's lowest level after Armenia.

Overall, the country has registered over 2.7 million infections and about 63,000 deaths.

The steep rise in contagion has prompted the government to tighten restrictions. Starting Thursday, proof of vaccination or a negative test is required to board planes, trains and long-distance buses.

In Rivne, 300 kilometers (190 miles) west of Kyiv, the city hospital is swamped with COVID-19 patients and doctors say the situation is worse than during the wave of infections early in the pandemic that severely strained the health system. The ... course of the disease is certainly more severe and more aggressive than last year. The patients have become younger, said Valentyn Koroliuk, head of the hospital's intensive-care unit. Unfortunately, those patients who are in our department are not vaccinated.

Lilia Serdiuk, 61, is fighting COVID-19 and regretting that she did heed calls to get vaccinated. I didn't believe it, I didn't even want to watch the news, she told The Associated Press as she lay on her back in a narrow bed.

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