Ukraine, which had done a good job controlling the coronavirus compared with neighboring countries, reported a sharp rise in cases this week, attributed in part to church attendance and weddings.
On Thursday, the country reported its highest single-day case count, according to Maksym Stepanov, the minister of health. The ministry reported 2,134 cases in the past 24 hours, surpassing the record of 1,967 cases reported the day before.
“Almost every day we have a new anti-record,” he told journalists in an online briefing. He reiterated requirements for wearing masks in public spaces and social distancing. “We live in a new reality that requires sticking to the certain rules,” he said. As of Thursday, Ukraine has reported a total of 98,658 cases and 2,182 deaths.
Lax adherence to the rules, rather than premature lifting of restrictions, was mostly to blame, Ukrainian medical experts said. Weddings and religious ceremonies in the western part of the country were the main cause of the recent increase in cases, the prime minister, Denys Shmygal, said on Monday. In response, he said, the police are stepping up enforcement of quarantine measures.
Partly, the increase in reported cases followed an increase in testing, Svitlana Fedorova, the director of the Mykolaiv Center, a scientific body studying infectious diseases, said in a post on Facebook. About 20,000 people are now tested daily in Ukraine, authorities have said.
But the more rapid spread in Ukraine is not wholly the result of rising rates of testing, Kateryna Bulavinova, of the United Nations Children’s Fund in Ukraine, said in an interview. “People don’t stick to the safety measures, do not keep social distance,” she said. Hospitals have not separated coronavirus and non-coronavirus patients, she said, making the health care system itself a source of infection. Because of this, she said, “the risk of getting infected is obviously higher.”
Ukraine, however, still has far fewer cases per capita than neighboring Russia and Belarus. In Belarus, President Aleksandr Lukashenko for months denied the virus posed a threat and never fully locked down the country to slow its spread. Participants in antigovernment street protests in Belarus say the failed virus response is one reason for their disaffection.