The last thing on anybody’s mind these days in Ukraine seems to be Covid.
With millions of people on the move fleeing the Russian invasion, health systems disrupted, and testing and vaccination programs suspended in many places, health officials fear that conditions could spread disease. But the pandemic, they said, was no longer a top priority.
“People are not frightened about Covid anymore,” said Dr. Marta Saiko, the head of the therapy department at the Clinical Municipal Emergency Hospital in Lviv, in western Ukraine. “People are frightened of the war.”
The invasion has brought attacks on some of the largest cities, including the capital, Kyiv, and the second-largest city, Kharkiv, causing an exodus of people and a breakdown in services.
Ukraine has a relatively low Covid vaccination rate, barely one-third of the population, and millions of people fleeing their homes have crowded into evacuation trains, resettlement centers, temporary housing and underground shelters — conditions ripe for a new surge of infections.
Recently, Ukraine has also been grappling with a rare outbreak of polio, which spreads through the kind of unsanitary conditions and water contamination that are common in a refugee crisis. Compounding the threat, vaccination for polio and other diseases has slowed worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic.