LVIV – After one of the harshest periods of COVID-19 in Ukraine, the country appears to have passed a peak of the pandemic. A forecast from the National Academy of Sciences shows that mortality from COVID-19 is in a final phase of the plateau, with a decrease in mortality expected in the coming days. The government, however, has decided to continue a national quarantine until June 30, preparing for the possibility of a new spike in cases after Easter, though the first batches of Pfizer vaccines under the COVAX initiative arrived in Ukraine.
“I would like to start with restrained optimism,” said Maxym Stepanov, the country’s minister of health, during a press briefing on April 20. “We are now in the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. We all see how difficult it is today and how many cases we face every day. But at the same time, we can say that we have passed the peak of morbidity.”
The figures for the past week compared with the week before last show that “the disease has declined,” Mr. Stepanov said. And this is a tribute to Ukrainians who adhered to the restrictions, the minister stressed.
“We received almost 13,500 fewer patients than the week before. The situation is the same in the number of hospitalizations: 3,500 fewer people were hospitalized last week,” Mr. Stepanov said.
But in some regions, the situation remains “quite tense,” the health minister said. Twelve regions continue to be classified in the “red level,” the country’s highest, while 56 percent of the country’s hospital beds assigned for COVID-19 patients are occupied. Kyiv and Lviv Oblast are both at 63 percent capacity, while Khmelnytska Oblast has the worst situation with 75 percent of its capacity occupied by COVID-19 patients as of April 21.
The minister of health stressed that it is too early for Ukrainians to relax and ignore the rules of epidemic safety. He also added that it is unacceptable for citizens to hold large parties or to have restaurants ignore pandemic safety protocols.
However, even members of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s team have not adhered to the quarantine restrictions. Investigative journalists uncovered details of the birthday quarantine celebration of the wife of Mykola Tyshchenko, the deputy head of the Servant of the People faction. Guests entered the Fairmont Hotel in the center of Kyiv without masks, and they were asked not to post photos and videos on the day of the event and not to mark the location in order to avoid publicity.
On April 18, journalists from the “Schemes” investigative television program managed to count about 30 guests who attended the celebration. None wore protective masks.
Journalists filmed Mr. Tyshchenko with his wife on the hotel’s balcony during the celebration. The head of the Cherkasy Regional State Administration, Oleksandr Skichko, and his wife were seen leaving the hotel after the party.
It was not the first time Mr. Tyshchenko was caught breaking the rules set by his own party. During the first spring lockdown in 2020, journalists revealed that Ukrainian politicians had visited the restaurant Velour, owned by Mykola Tyshchenko. The guests included national deputies, businessmen and partners of oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.
The speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Dmytro Razumkov, said he was ashamed of Mr. Tyshchenko’s behavior, who was celebrating his wife’s birthday with friends at a Kyiv hotel during an intensified quarantine.
Mr. Razumkov stressed that the authorities should understand that today the state is in a difficult situation. “Many people have closed business, and many do not have enough resources for a normal existence,” Mr. Razumkov said.
While the country deals with yet another period of lockdown measures, it has also received more vaccines. On April 16, the first batch of vaccines was delivered to Ukraine under the COVAX program – an initiative to ensure global access to COVID-19 vaccines. It was the first delivery within the COVAX initiative to the country.
Ukraine received 117,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine free of charge. Those doses will primarily be used to vaccinate staff and residents of nursing homes, while employees of the State Emergency Service and border guards will be the next group of individuals to receive the vaccines.
“The state of Ukraine has set a clear objective to cover the majority of the adult population of Ukraine with the COVID-19 vaccination this calendar year. This is a difficult task, but it can definitely be done,” Mr. Stepanov said. “This process will be a real logistical and management challenge, as different manufacturers and types of vaccines will be involved in the vaccination process, each of which has its conditions for use, transportation, and storage,” the health minister said.
Mr. Stepanov welcomed the effort of the global COVAX initiative and thanked Ukraine’s international partners for their support.
“It is important for Ukraine that in the conditions of fierce competition and struggle for access to vaccines in the world, COVAX confirms in practice the fulfillment of the tasks for which this global partnership was created – to provide fair opportunities for all,” Mr. Stepanov said.
The supply of vaccines to Ukraine from various manufacturers under the COVAX initiative will continue. It is expected that by the end of 2021, it will enable the country to cover up to 20 percent of the population of its population. Under the COVAX program, UNICEF purchases and supplies only those COVID-19 vaccines that meet the World Health Organization’s safety and efficacy criteria.
“WHO is working to ensure the availability and accessibility of vaccines, as well as to conduct a safe and effective vaccination process in Ukraine,” said Dr. Jarno Habicht, head of the WHO office in Ukraine.
“Nowadays, partners such as WHO, UNICEF, the European Union, USAID, the United Kingdom and the World Bank have given priority to COVID-19 vaccination and allocated resources to support these efforts in Ukraine. Ensuring equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine, especially to protect the most vulnerable populations, will allow us to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on public health and the economy,” Mr. Habicht said.
Lotta Sylwander, head of UNICEF Ukraine, underlined that Ukraine’s medical system is overloaded, and the vaccination process must be quick and effective.
“It is critical to ensure that the vaccination process is organized safely: preserving distance, avoiding close quarters, so that people do not contract infection with COVID while waiting for a vaccination,” Ms. Sylwander said.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the government expects many more vaccines in May and expects the vaccination campaign to accelerate significantly. On April 21, he said that 367,000 doses from AstraZeneca should arrive in Ukraine in the coming week. All told, the total number of vaccines already delivered will be more than 1.1 million doses.
“We expect a much larger number of vaccines in May, and the vaccination campaign will accelerate significantly. The president of Ukraine has made it clear that by the end of this year, more than half of the population should be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Mr. Shmyhal said.
The head of the WHO European Bureau, Hans Kluge, predicted that the coronavirus pandemic would end early next year, he said in an interview with Danish media DR. Mr. Kluge noted that this year the situation with the spread of coronavirus would be more manageable than last year.
“The worst-case scenario is behind us. We already know a lot more about the coronavirus compared to 2020, when it was just starting to spread,” Mr. Kluge said.
The WHO does predict the end of the global pandemic in early 2022, Mr. Kluge said. However, the coronavirus will likely become endemic and spread among the population like the flu.
“The virus will continue to spread, but I don’t think there will be a need to impose restrictions,” he said. At the same time, he stressed that this is only a probable development. The exact result is currently impossible to determine.
According to the Public Health Center of Ukraine, on April 21 there were 12,162 new COVID-19 cases in Ukraine, with 418,850 total active cases in the country.
Since the beginning of the immunization campaign, 477,833 people have been vaccinated. On April 20, 15,042 people were vaccinated against COVID-19. Of this number, 5,231 people got CoviShield (Oxford-AstraZeneca) vaccine, 4,963 got the CoronaVac (Sinovac) vaccine, and 4,848 got the Comirnaty (Pfizer-BioNTech) vaccine.
During the entire pandemic in Ukraine, 1,974,118 people have contracted COVID-19; 1,514,472 people recovered; 40,796 people died; and 9,042,785 tests have been conducted.