Despite mass vaccination, Serbia struggles under wave of new strains

Serbia is struggling to contain a wave of new Covid-19 cases triggered by more infectious strains and health experts have urged the government to impose another lockdown despite the country's massive vaccine rollout, news wires reported.

Some 4,056 people tested positive on Tuesday, which is more than double the daily number of infections seen a few weeks ago, the health ministry said. In a regional hospital in the city of Nis, doctors and nurses struggled to help new patients, some in serious condition, Reuters reported. "The situation is escalating into a major problem," said Radmilo Jankovic, the hospital's acting general manager. "We are almost full, we will have to free more space."

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," he added. 

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, restaurants and clubs, while shopping malls, food stores and markets and other businesses remain open. 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 UAE, the UK and the US. 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.

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