Only 40% of Romania’s population of around 19 million has been fully inoculated against COVID-19. Although booster doses are considered necessary to provide adequate protection against omicron, three-quarters of the country’s fully jabbed individuals have yet to receive an additional shot.

As the fast-spreading coronavirus variant omicron rages through Western Europe, officials and experts in low-vaccinated Eastern Europe anticipate a post-holiday explosion of COVID-19 cases in much of the region. reports the AP.

Many countries in Eastern Europe only recently emerged from infection waves that put a catastrophic strain on health care systems, and at times have tallied some of the highest pandemic death rates globally.

Now, with omicron already confirmed across the region and the winter holidays bringing more community gatherings and international travel, public health officials are predicting a sharp virus surge in the coming weeks.

Adriana Pistol, director of Romania’s National Center for Surveillance and Control of Communicable Diseases, warned Wednesday that the country could see a peak of 25,000 new daily cases during the expected next wave. Romania is the European Union’s second-least vaccinated member nation.

Noting that roughly 60% of Romania’s people over age 65 or living with chronic diseases remain unvaccinated, Pistol said: “Even if the omicron strain does not have the same level of severity(,) … the health system will be overloaded anyway and reach levels recorded this year in October.”

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