Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to a spike in Covid cases and even new variants, ABC Covid doomsayer Dr Norman Swan claims.
Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale war last week, with 150,000 soldiers attacking key cities and territories near the border as they attempt to take the capital of Kyiv.
But while most Australians worried about whether Ukraine would be able to hold out, Dr Swan fretted about low immunisation rates in Eastern European nations.
The former GP and ABC presenter said the invasion had huge health ramifications on both populations given the chaotic movement of people.
‘Fresh outbreaks, new variants. Warfare through the centuries is a concurrent theme in making pandemics worse or creating them in the first place,’ he told ABC Radio National.
Dr Norman Swan said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to a spike in Covid cases and even new variants given low immunisation rates
Ukraine has vaccination rates of just 35 per cent in its eligible population, with Russia just over 56 per cent.
Russia is suffering a wave of Covid cases, with a rolling average of more than 137,000 new infections a day as Omicron makes it way through the country.
The combination of high infection rates and low immunisation could lead to a medical catastrophe, with vulnerable people packed together in wartime conditions, Dr Swan warned.
‘If this goes on a lot longer, where people are getting hungry, sanitation breaks down, Covid may be the least of it,’ he said.
‘But you will certainly see an exacerbation in Covid-19, particularly in the elderly population of the Ukraine.’
There are also questions over the effectiveness Sputnik vaccine that is being administered in Russia, with fears infected soldiers could expose at-risk populations.
‘Even the Russians coming in are vulnerable because they’ve got the vaccine which has dubious protection,’ the physician said.
‘You’ve got two populations coming in together who are either under-immunised or they’ve got an inadequate vaccine.’
Dr Norman Swan, a former GP and presenter for the ABC, said the invasion had overwhelming health rammifications on both populations
Dr Swan said separate from Covid, the war would see an increase in other diseases and illnesses associated with the conditions of conflict.
He said there would be more common sicknesses like colds, diarrhea, vomiting, and gastroenteritis spreading through the community, but things could get much worse if the invasion was prolonged.
‘If it goes on a long time you’ll see pneumonia. Kids will die of childhood diseases,’ the ABC doctor said.
‘It doesn’t bear thinking about how bad it could get with the usual disease, much less Covid-19 going around in a vulnerable population.’
Surrounding countries like Poland, Romania, and Moldova were also at risk as thousands of Ukrainian refugees fled over the border.
So far, the Ukrainian response has been stern and effective, with President Volodymyr Zelensky confirming they were to hold talks with Russian officials on the Ukranian-Belarusian border ‘without preconditions’.
President Zelensky warned Ukraine faced a ‘crucial’ 24 hours as Russia threw even more ground forces at Kyiv.
Satellite images overnight showed a three mile-long convoy heading towards the capital, after Vladimir Putin put his nuclear deterrent forces on ‘alert’.
Russian military vehicles were pictured moving in despite officials agreeing to hold peace talks at the border with Belarus later today.
The images, released by Maxar Technologies, showed hundreds of military vehicles moving in the direction of the Ukrainian capital from about 64km away.
A satellite image made available by Maxar Technologies shows a large convoy of Russian ground forces in convoy near Ivankiv, Ukraine
Earlier on Sunday, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko issued a chilling threat that the West’s sanctions on Russia are pushing the Kremlin into a Third World War.
‘Now there is a lot of talk against the banking sector, gas, oil, SWIFT,’ Lukashenko said. ‘It’s worse than war. This is pushing Russia into a Third World War. We need to be restrained here so as not to get into trouble. Because nuclear war is the end of everything.’
Ukraine’s health ministry said on Sunday that 352 civilians, including 14 children, had been killed since the beginning of Russia’s invasion. It also said that 1,684 people, including 116 children, had been wounded
President Zelensky’s office had earlier said the two delegations will meet ‘without preconditions’ near the Pripyat River, to the north of Chernobyl, in a deal brokered in a phone call with Lukashenko himself.
A spokesperson added that Lukashenko has taken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on Belarusian territory remain on the ground during the Ukrainian delegation’s travel, talks and return.
President Zelensky has warned that Ukraine faces a ‘crucial’ 24 hours as Russia throws even more ground forces at Kyiv
Zelensky described his discussion with Lukashenko as ‘very substantive’, adding that he had made it clear he did not want troops to move from Belarus to Ukraine and Lukashenko ‘assured him of this’.
He added: ‘I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try, so that later not a single citizen of Ukraine has any doubt that I, as president, tried to stop the war.’
It came as Putin declared, in his own televised address, that he had ordered troops operating the nuclear deterrent onto a ‘special regime of duty’ in light of ‘aggressive statements’ from NATO leaders and ‘unfriendly economic actions’. Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg responded: ‘This is dangerous rhetoric’.
Ukraine filed a lawsuit against Russia at the Hague, with Mr Zelensky requesting that the UN International Court of Justice orders Russia to stop its attack against Ukraine and starts trials soon.
Ukraine war latest, at a glance
- Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko warns the West’s sanctions on Russia are pushing the Kremlin into WWIII
- The EU has unveiled a new package of sanctions against Putin’s regime, closing off its airspace to all Russian planes and banning Kremlin propaganda outlets Russia Today and Sputnik
- Kyiv and Moscow will hold peace talks at the border with Belarus, Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed
- The Ukrainian President’s office said the two delegations will meet ‘without preconditions’ near the Pripyat River, to the north of Chernobyl
- Putin orders forces operating Russia’s nuclear deterrent to be on alert amid simmering tensions with the West
- U.S. blasts Putin’s nuclear order as ‘unacceptable’ and says war crimes tribunal isn’t off the table
- Putin’s desperate troops adopt ‘siege tactics’ after being driven out of Kharkiv by resistance fighters
- Ukraine’s defence ministry claims Russian death toll stands at 4,300
- Ukraine’s health ministry said on Sunday that 352 civilians, including 14 children, had been killed since the beginning of Russia’s invasion
- At least 200,000 people have fled Ukraine to three countries, with 150,000 said to have crossed into Poland alone
- Ukraine’s defence ministry today appealed for foreigners to come forward to join its armed forces and fight back Putin’s army
- US and EU have agreed to curtail Russia’s use of SWIFT messaging system, which is vital to for global financial transactions
- Iskander missiles were launched from Belarus to Ukraine
- Russia acknowledged it had lost troops for the first time today, but did not give a number
- BP announces it is ditching its controversial 20 per cent stake in the Russian energy group Rosneft ‘with immediate effect