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COVID in Europe: UK urges those eligible to get booster jabs as Romanian death toll rises

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Patients lie on beds in a crowded COVID-19 isolation room at the University Emergency Hospital in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.
Patients lie on beds in a crowded COVID-19 isolation room at the University Emergency Hospital in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.   -   Copyright  Andreea Alexandru / AP
By Josephine Joly

Coronavirus cases continue to surge in some European countries while governments work to extend vaccination campaigns to prevent more deaths due to the virus.

The UK is calling on those eligible for a COVID-19 booster to book early as the government hopes to speed up the roll-out of the third jab.

Here's a look at the top COVID-19 stories in Europe.

Over 10 million people in UK have received top-up vaccines

More than 10 million people in the UK have received their COVID-19 booster or third jabs, the latest figures show, ensuring vital protection over the winter months.

Seven in 10 among the over-80s in England are already vaccinated with top-up jabs.

The National Booking Service has been updated on Monday to allow those eligible for a booster vaccine – people over 50 and the most vulnerable – to pre-book their jab five months after their second dose.

People will also be able to book by calling 119 and those eligible can use the NHS online walk-in finder to locate the most convenient site.

The change is intended to speed up the vaccination programme by allowing people to receive a jab the day they become eligible, rather than waiting for a convenient appointment.

Health experts say the programme is vital as vulnerable and elderly people have died from the virus due to the efficacy of the vaccine waning.

"We know immunity begins to wane after six months, and booster jabs will ensure our most vulnerable are protected over the winter," said Health and Social Care secretary Sajid Javid.

"Please do not delay - get your vaccines as soon as you can to protect yourself and your loved ones this winter so we can keep the virus at bay," Javid went on.

Patients who are severely immunosuppressed were urged to get a third primary dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in September and told they would also be invited for a booster jab after that.

Russian hospitals struggle with increasing numbers of patients

Meanwhile in Russia hospitals across the country continue to struggle with increasing numbers of coronavirus patients amid low vaccination rates.

In a country of around 144 million, only some 40.1% of adults are fully vaccinated, compared to an EU average of 74%.

According to the latest figures published by the government on Saturday morning, 41,335 new cases of coronavirus were recorded on November 6, a record since the beginning of the pandemic.

There have been 39,400 new cases so far on Monday.

"All my relatives are vaccinated, I'm the only one who's so stupid! I have been here [in the hospital] for 43 days. I had doubts about the vaccination, but now there is no doubt about it at all," said Maria Babanakova, a Kemerovo resident.

Russia was the first country to create a coronavirus vaccine, but independent polls have shown that many Russians are sceptical of the Russian-made vaccines.

Critics have principally blamed the low uptake on a botched vaccine rollout, mixed messages the authorities have been sending about the outbreak, and the non-distribution of vaccines made abroad.

Schools reopen in Romania after a prolonged holiday

In Romania, in-person school classes are starting again after a prolonged mid-term school holiday.

But only the Romanian schools and kindergartens where more than 60% of the employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 were due to open their doors starting Monday, according to a national committee for emergency situations (CNSU) decision.

If the vaccination rate does not reach 60% in a school, lessons will remain online.

The holiday had been extended to two weeks to curb the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit Romania stronger than ever before amid low vaccination rates.

Romania has recorded this week its highest daily number of coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic started, with close to 600 dead in just 24 hours.

Over the past several weeks, the 20 million-strong nation has been losing about 500 of its citizens daily to COVID-19, making it the worst-hit country in Europe by this new pandemic wave, and amongst the most impacted nations worldwide.

Coronavirus has been killing one Romanian every five minutes in October, according to reports of the government-run vaccination committee.

For comparison, no recent catastrophes in Romanian history even come close to the almost 50,000 dead due to the virus in the last 18 months.

Elsewhere in Europe

The rate of coronavirus infections in Germany has been hitting record levels. Fewer new cases were reported on Monday although figures often dip after the weekend. Amid what has been called a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, the country has struggled to find ways to boost its much-slowed vaccination campaign. Read more here.

Austria on Monday introduced tougher coronavirus restrictions across the country, with unvaccinated people refused entry to restaurants, hairdressers, and events. Read more here.