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Ukraine sees new record high in coronavirus deaths, infections

Authorities have blamed surging infections on a sluggish pace of vaccination in the nation of 41 million.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's coronavirus infections and deaths reached all-time highs for a second straight day Friday, in a growing challenge for the country with one of Europe's lowest shares of vaccinated people.

Ukrainian health authorities reported 23,785 new confirmed infections and 614 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Authorities in the capital, Kyiv, shut schools for two weeks starting Friday, and similar measures were ordered in other areas with high contagion levels.

Authorities have blamed surging infections on a sluggish pace of vaccination in the nation of 41 million. Ukrainians can freely choose between Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines, but only about 15% of the population is fully vaccinated, Europe’s lowest level after Armenia.

Overall, the country has registered over 2.7 million infections and about 63,000 deaths.

The steep rise in contagion has prompted the government to tighten restrictions. Starting Thursday, proof of vaccination or a negative test is required to board planes, trains and long-distance buses.

A black market for counterfeit vaccination certificates has blossomed amid the restrictions, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy chaired a meeting earlier this week on ways of combating the illegal practice.

Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky said police have opened 800 criminal cases concerning the use of such certificates, adding that the ministry deployed 100 mobile units to track down their holders, who would face severe punishment.

He said that a former lawmaker, Nadiya Savchenko, produced a fake proof of vaccination as she returned to Ukraine Friday.

Police said they suspect workers at 15 hospitals across the country of involvement in issuing false vaccination certificates.

To encourage vaccination, authorities have started offering shots in shopping malls. As infections soared, skeptical attitudes began to change and a record number of more than 270,000 people received vaccines over the past 24 hours.

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By YURAS KARMANAU Associated Press

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