Bulgaria and Romania on Tuesday reported new record daily COVID-19 death tolls.
Over the previous 24 hours, 310 people died in Bulgaria and 591 in Romania — the highest one-day death tolls recorded in both countries since the beginning of the pandemic.
The two eastern EU countries have the bloc's lowest vaccination rates.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), just 25.5% of Bulgaria's adults are fully vaccinated, rising to 37.2% in Romania. This is well below the 75.2% average for the EU/EEA.
Sofia has reported the loss of 24,309 lives since the beginning of the pandemic with 608,499 infections also confirmed among the country's 6.9 million population.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Minister of Health Dr Stoycho Katsarov said the country is facing its toughest wave yet and that although the health system has so far been resilient, "the next two weeks will be critical".
"This is not just a health crisis. This is a national disaster. The health system can't do it alone without the involvement of all of us as citizens," he added, urging people to get vaccinated.
"Vaccination is what will permanently get us out of this disaster, allow us to restore our normal way of communicating, working and living, bring children back to school. All other measures are temporary, they postpone from one lockdown to the next," he said.
′′There is no more time to postpone and nothing to hesitate about. Yes, vaccines are effective - several people die in countries with high vaccination levels, not several hundred a day, as is the case in our country," he went on.
According to officials, more than 90% of patients hospitalised for COVID-19 are not vaccinated.
Neighbouring Romania, meanwhile, has seen the pace of vaccination pick up since October 19 — when the previous death record was reached.
Romanian authorities also said that over 90% of the people who die from COVID-19 are unvaccinated with 541 of the 591 people who died being unprotected against the disease. The 50 people who lost their lives even though they were vaccinated all had comorbidities, the government said.
A COVID health pass requiring people to show proof of vaccination in order to access leisure venues including cinemas, gyms and shopping centres was rolled out in October and a nighttime curfew running from 10 pm to 5 am is also in force.
The country of 19.3 million inhabitants has recorded over 48,000 deaths and 1,6 million confirmed infections since the beginning of the pandemic.