Ukraine faces ‘severe’ coronavirus winter but no new lockdown measures, minister says

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Health Minister Maksym Stepanov stands near a plane as medical personnel depart for coronavirus-hit Italy at an airport in Kyiv
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Health Minister Maksym Stepanov wearing a protective mask stands near a plane, as medical personnel depart for Italy amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, at an airport in Kyiv, Ukraine April 4, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo

November 18, 2020

By Ilya Zhegulev

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine faces a “very severe” period of COVID-19 cases but will not tighten lockdown restrictions because measures taken last week should stabilise the situation, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov told Reuters on Wednesday.

The government on Saturday introduced a lockdown at weekends, closing or restricting most businesses except essential services such as grocery shops, pharmacies, hospitals and transport.

A member of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s administration resigned over the decision, some mayors refused to comply with the government’s order and some business owners held protests.

But Stepanov said the move meant there would be 10-15% fewer COVID-19 cases than there might have been.

“I can say with confidence that if we adhere to these measures, we will be able to stop the growth, at least stabilise it where it is now,” Stepanov said in a video interview.

The measures, he said, would help Ukraine get “through the hardest period, the hardest winter.”

“Because the winter, in my opinion, will be very severe in terms of morbidity and the number of seriously ill,” he said.

Ukraine passed a milestone of 10,000 deaths on Wednesday and has registered 570,153 COVID-19 cases. Stepanov himself tested positive last week, and Zelenskiy and senior members of his government have also been infected.

Stepanov, 45, said more people under the age of 40 had been infected in the recent surge of cases, adding: “This worries us a lot.”

However, the system is better prepared now than at the start of the pandemic, he said, with the number of deaths down from 2.9% to 1.8% of all patients although Ukraine is facing a shortage of beds equipped with oxygen.

One of Europe’s poorest countries, Ukraine’s economy slumped this year and the government has failed to secure more funding from the International Monetary Fund.

Stepanov, who was appointed in March, said a stricter lockdown might be more effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19 but the finance ministry had warned it would deal “a severe and irreparable blow to the economy.”

Stepanov dismissed speculation he was about to resign.

(Editing by Matthias Williams and Timothy Heritage)