Serbia sees rise in COVID-19 cases from new strains

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Serbia is struggling to contain a wave of new coronavirus cases triggered by more infectious strains and health experts have urged the government to impose another lockdown despite the country’s massive vaccine rollout.

Some 4,056 people tested positive since Tuesday, the health ministry said, more than double the daily number of infections seen a few weeks ago.

In a regional hospital in Serbia’s southern city of Nis, doctors and nurses clad in protective suits struggled to help new patients, some in serious condition.

“The situation is escalating into a major problem,” said Radmilo Jankovic, a doctor and the hospital’s acting general manager.

“We are almost full, we will have to free more space,” he added.

Milorad Jerkan, the director of the public health centre in Nis said new, more contagious virus strains were behind the rise in cases but also people failing to adhere to basic health measures.

“Take a stroll … and you will see packed cafes, young people without face masks,” said Jerkan who himself recovered from COVID-19 but lost his sister to the disease.

The government is weighing between the need to keep the economy going and the need to contain the disease. It shortened the opening hours of cafes, restaurant and clubs, while shopping malls, food stores and markets and other businesses remain open.

In Serbia, which has a population of 7 million, 4,491 people have died and 470,941 have contracted the virus.

In the past weeks, a number of clubs and cafes in Serbia held illegal parties and concerts with hundreds inside. Some have since been raided and shut down by the government.

Mass vaccinations may also have encouraged some people to relax prematurely, Jankovic said, noting it takes time for people to build up immunity.

Serbia is currently in fifth place globally for the number of vaccines administered per 100 people, behind Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Britain and United States.

Around 1.5 million people or 21% of Serbia’s population have received at least one shot so far.

Serbians can choose between four different shots: Pfizer Inc-BioNTech,, China’s Sinopharm, Oxford and AstraZeneca and Russia’s Sputnik V.

Main Photo: Patients rest after receiving a dose of AstraZeneca Covid -19 vaccine at Belexpo vaccination center in Belgrade, Serbia. EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC

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