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Virus surge hits Austria, Romania, Russia

Coronavirus-linked deaths have hit new highs in Romania and Russia while a surge in COVID-19 hospitalisations in Austria is expected to tighten pandemic restrictions.

Romania reported a record high daily number of 591 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday amid a persistently low vaccination rate and a wave of coronavirus infections that has overwhelmed the country’s ailing health care system.

About 37 per cent of adults in Romania, a European Union member with 19 million people, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 compared to an EU average of 75 per cent.

Within the 27-member EU, only Bulgaria has a smaller share of its population vaccinated.

Romanian authorities said on Tuesday that 541 of the 591 people who had died of COVID-19 since the day before were unvaccinated.

The unfolding disaster prompted authorities to impose tighter restrictions starting last week.

Vaccination certificates are required for many day-to-day activities such as going to the gym, the cinema or a shopping mall.

For everyone, there is a 10pm curfew.

Since the pandemic started, Romania has registered more than 1.6 million confirmed cases and 48,664 deaths.

The country’s previous daily death toll record of 574 was set on October 19.

Coronavirus deaths in Russia also hit another daily record high on Tuesday, four days since an order for many Russians to stay off work took effect.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 39,008 new confirmed cases and 1178 COVID-19 deaths.

The task force has reported record daily infections or deaths almost every day for the last month.

To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a country-wide non-working period for October 30-November 7.

Putin has said that governments in regions where the situation is most dire could add more non-working days, if needed.

The Novgorod region became the first one to do so Monday, extending the period by another week.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday brushed off rumours that the non-working period could be prolonged for all of Russia.

Russia’s weekslong surge in infections and deaths comes amid low vaccination rates, lax public attitudes toward taking precautions and the government’s reluctance to toughen restrictions.

Less than 35 per cent of Russia’s nearly 146 million people have been fully vaccinated so far, even though Russia approved a domestically developed vaccine against the coronavirus months before most countries.

Putin on Monday described the situation with COVID-19 in Russia as “very difficult”.

In all, Russia’s state coronavirus task force has reported nearly 8.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 240,000 deaths in the pandemic – by far the highest death toll in Europe.

In Austria, more than 300 intensive care beds are being used by COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday – meaning the country is days away from a series of automatic restrictions designed to stop the disease from spreading.

According to laws put in place since the pandemic struck, once health authorities record 300 ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, a one-week clock starts ticking.

Tuesday’s count stood at 317, a 25-person increase in one day.

The number of patients in non-intensive care beds also jumped by 145, to 1600.

At the end of the seven days, the country will go on the second level of a five-level system.

Once level two is in effect, night-time restaurant dining and other events attended by large crowds are only open to those who can prove they are vaccinated against or have recovered from the coronavirus.

Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein expects that the next benchmark – 400 intensive care beds occupied – will be hit next week.

At that point, the next stage of the plan would be triggered, meaning unvaccinated people would have to provide negative PCR tests at the workplace or when visiting restaurants.

Rapid antigen tests would no longer apply for this group.

Mueckstein also announced that booster vaccination jabs are now available to everyone.

The third shot is explicitly recommended for people over 65, for workers in the health and education sectors as well as for risk groups.

The country recorded 5398 new cases within the last 24 hours on Tuesday, which is equivalent to an incidence rate of 400 cases per 100,000 residents.

Should the situation worse, the law calls for further tightening of restrictions.

In the worst case, those who are not vaccinated could be required to isolate themselves at home.

with DPA

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