KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s cabinet voted on Wednesday to impose a national lockdown at weekends to strengthen steps to curb the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said the weekend lockdown would be in force from Nov. 14-30.
The decision will mean closing or restricting the activity of most businesses at weekends with the exception of grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and transport.
The cabinet also stepped up restrictions on operations of restaurants, cinemas, gyms, and public events.
“If nothing is done, then on Dec. 10-15 the medical system will no longer be able to receive people, there will be no places in hospitals even in the corridors,” Shmygal told a cabinet meeting. “The task is to reduce the flow of people at weekends; (those who) can stay at home should stay at home.”
The daily tally of new coronavirus infections began spiking in late September and has remained consistently high throughout October and so far in November, spurring the government to extend some restrictions until the end of this year – among them, mask-wearing in public and limits on cafe opening hours.
The former Soviet republic registered a total of 489,808 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, with 8,947 deaths and 221,459 recoveries.
“We have a rather tense situation, our COVID is spreading at a hurricane rate,” Health Minister Maksym Stepanov told the cabinet session. “We need to break this chain so that we do not have 10,000 patients every day.”
But lockdown plans have drawn protests from entrepreneurs, several hundred of whom rallied outside government headquarters.
“We are here to protect our rights. What are they? It is a right to be able to provide for our children, pay for utility bills and live a life of normal people,” said protester Yuri Shramchenko, a Kyiv restaurant chef.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Valentyn Ogirenko; Editing by Mark Heinrich)