Ukraine Reports Over 22K New COVID Cases As Vaccine or Negative Test Required to Travel

Ukraine reported the highest number of COVID cases since the beginning of the pandemic on Thursday as lawmakers begin requiring vaccination or a negative test for public transportation.

The country reported 22,415 new cases and 546 deaths in the past 24 hours, blaming the devastating high numbers of cases on the low vaccination rate of 15 percent of the country.

"There are just two ways — vaccination or lockdown. I'm against the lockdown for the sake of (the) economy," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian government instituted restrictions on Thursday, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to board trains, planes, and long-distance buses, as well as limiting access to public places.

Ukrainians have access to Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccinations, but the country remains the second-lowest vaccinated European country, following Armenia. Ukraine has reported a total of 2.7 million coronavirus cases and 62,389 deaths.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Ukraine reports over 22K COVID cases
Ukraine reported the most coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, implementing travel restrictions as only 15% of the country is vaccinated. Medical staff members at a COVID-19 infection department of a city clinic in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

The restrictive measures have made a black market for counterfeit vaccination certificates blossom, and Zelenskyy chaired a meeting earlier this week on ways to combat the practice. Police said they suspect workers at 15 hospitals across the country of involvement in issuing false vaccination certificates.

Despite the rising contagion, the government has been reluctant to introduce another lockdown. It's keen to avoid further damage to an economy weakened by the conflict with neighboring Russia — which annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the country's eastern industrial heartland.

To encourage vaccination, the authorities have started offering shots in shopping malls. As infections soared, skeptical attitudes began to change and a record number of more than 251,000 people received vaccines over the past 24 hours.

"I'm frightened by a spike in infections, my friend is at a hospital in grave condition," 38-year-old businessman Denys Onuchko said after receiving the first vaccine dose at a Kyiv shopping mall.

Onuchko noted that many Ukrainians have been disinformed by conspiracy theories about vaccines, but now take a more rational approach as the situation exacerbates. "People have been scared by stories ... but the real threat must make them sober up," he said.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said city hospitals are facing an influx of patients, an increasing share of them in grave condition.

Yulia Furman, 47, who also received the first vaccine shot, said many people in her entourage believed in conspiracy theories about vaccines.

"Many of my friends believed those stories about a global plot and now they are gravely ill, it's now time to protect oneself," she said.

Ukraine reports over 22K New COVID cases
Ukraine reported the most coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, implementing travel restrictions as only 15% of the country is vaccinated. A city mall in Kyiv, Ukraine holds a vaccination center on Oct. 21, 2021. Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press