Is Ukraine Barreling Toward a COVID Surge?

There is no good time for a war, but there are certainly bad ones. Even as Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine enters its second month and the civilian death toll nears 1,000, the pandemic churns on. In Europe and parts of Asia, cases have shot up in recent weeks. A new and seemingly more transmissible variant has emerged, as we always knew it eventually would. The World Health Organization has expressed worry that the war could not only supercharge transmission within the region but worsen the pandemic worldwide.

With its 35 percent vaccination rate, Ukraine was especially vulnerable even before the invasion forced 10 million people from their homes. That much of the population must now cram together in packed train cars and basement bomb shelters will not help matters. For many in Ukraine, though, such concerns are not top of mind. “Their priority is just to flee and survive,” Paul Spiegel, the director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins University, told me. In his research, Spiegel has found a strong connectionbetween conflicts and epidemics. But assessing the interplay between disease and violence in Ukraine is difficult right now: After the invasion, reporting on case counts slowed to a trickle.


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