EFEBy Vladislav Punchev and Marcel Gascón Sofia/Bucharest

The Covid-19 vaccination campaigns in Romania and Bulgaria lag far behind the European Union average while the coronavirus-related mortality rate is some eight times higher, a worrying situation that has prompted authorities to tighten limitations on those who have not had a jab.

Just over 20% of Bulgaria’s 6.9 million inhabitants have had a full course of a Covid-19 vaccine, a figure that is closer to 30% in Romania, according to EU data. This comes in stark contrast to the rest of the bloc, which has an average vaccination rate of 63%.

With the Romanian healthcare system close to buckling, authorities have placed curbs on non-urgent medical procedures and alleviated pressure by sending some Covid-19 patients for treatment in Hungary and Austria.

In a bid to boost vaccination, Romanian authorities on Monday enforced a Covid-19 vaccine passport scheme, which holders must be prepared to show in order to leave their house at night time.

Unvaccinated Romanians will not be granted entry to bars, restaurants, non-essential stores and will have to provide a negative Covid-19 test to pay their taxes in person.

If they fail to produce a test, “they will have to pay online, or wait,” said Raed Arafat, who is leading Romania’s pandemic response.

Similar rules came into force in neighboring Bulgaria on Thursday, although authorities here will accept a vaccine certificate, a negative test or proof of immunity.

The tough measures seem to have had an effect on both sides of the Danube, which forms the border between the EU’s poorest nations.

On Sunday, some 80,000 Romanians received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, a stratospheric increase compared to the daily average of just 4,000 in September.

The push has had an effect in Bulgaria, too, where the daily vaccine rate shot up from 6,000 to 28,000.

However many of those turning up for the vaccine were doing so not because they believed in its medicinal benefits but simply to get a hold of the certificate.

“I wasn’t going to get vaccinated because I don’t believe in these vaccines that have been developed so quickly, that don’t guarantee that you are protected against the contagion, but I have no choice because if I don’t do it I can’t go to work,” Ivan Georgiev, who works in a commercial center in Sofia, told Efe.

He believed that the rules specific to the unvaccinated violated his rights.

Another factor pushing people to get vaccinated is the fear of dying or being intubated in the overflowing ICUs, footage of which has started to dominate TV news reports.

There are roughly 7,000 Covid-19 patients in hospitals in Bulgaria, of which 600 require treatment in ICU. In Romania, it is even worse as the number of Covid patients has surpassed 20,000 of which some 1,855 are in ICU.EFE

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