Coronavirus deaths in Eastern Europe topped 1 million on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, as the Omicron variant threatened to batter the region.
Three out of the five countries reporting the highest number of daily deaths in Europe are from the East, including Russia, Poland and Ukraine, Reuters data through Thursday showed.
“I am scared because it is a huge number of daily deaths – huge, unimaginable,” said Bozena Adamowicz, a pensioner from Warsaw.
Eastern Europe makes up 39% of the region’s population and has reported more than half the total COVID-related deaths in Europe, according to the Reuters tally.
The death toll in Eastern Europe reached 1,045,454 on Thursday, compared with 1,873,253 in all of Europe.
The region includes Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine.
Relatively few cases of Omicron have been detected in Eastern Europe, in contrast with Western Europe where daily cases have broken records.
Poland reported 794 COVID-related deaths on Wednesday. It was a record high for the fourth wave of the pandemic, although the figure may have been inflated by delayed reporting due to Christmas.
Dr. Michal Sutkowski, spokesperson for the College of Family Physicians in Poland, blamed the rising toll in Poland on an overloaded healthcare system, a lack of knowledge and the relative reluctance to get vaccinated compared to the West, including for the most vulnerable groups.
“Unfortunately, the Omicron is approaching. It will come sooner or later … and then the number of deaths might increase dramatically, because, unfortunately, there will be an effect of scale,” he said, adding that he had noticed a growing interest in vaccinations in recent weeks.
Russia has overtaken Brazil to have the world’s second-highest death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic, behind the United States, data from Russia’s state statistics service and Reuters calculations showed on Thursday.
The statistics service, Rosstat, said 87,527 people had died from coronavirus-related causes in November, making it the deadliest month in Russia since the start of the pandemic.
Globally the pandemic has killed more than 5.7 million people.
Russia has vaccinated almost 55% of its population with at least one shot, according to health minister Mikhail Murashko.
Anna Popova, head of Russia’s state consumer watchdog, voiced concern over the potential impact of 10 days of New Year holidays.
“Considering the upcoming New Year holidays, when the number of contacts between people is already increasing, the risks of the spread of the new Omicron strain will certainly increase,” she said on Tuesday.
The Czech Republic and Hungary top the region’s vaccination rates with nearly 64% of both countries’ total population having received at least one shot. Ukraine has the lowest rate with nearly 33% of its residents receiving a single dose, according to Our World in Data.