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By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
KYIV (Reuters) - A record number of Ukrainians were taken to hospital with coronavirus over the past 24 hours, while the number of deaths remains consistently high, health ministry data show on Wednesday.
Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said on Facebook 3,486 people were hospitalised in the past day, the highest number since the epidemic hit the country of 41 million last year.
The daily number of hospitalisations did not exceed 2,000 during the peak of the epidemic in late 2020, but began to rise in late winter during the second wave of the epidemic.
Stepanov said 7,235 new cases were registered over the past 24 hours with 185 deaths. Ukraine has reported 1,364,705 coronavirus cases and 26,397 deaths so far.
Stepanov also told the Ukraine 24 television channel on Tuesday evening that shipments of the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine would likely be delayed, as first reported by Reuters last month.
Lagging behind the rest of Europe, Ukraine has only just started vaccinating its population after receiving its first batch of 500,000 Indian-made AstraZeneca shots last month, prioritising frontline healthcare workers and the military.
Stepanov's ministry came under fire since signing a contract with a local intermediary, the pharmaceutical company Lekhim, to procure Sinovac vaccines.
Activists said the contract was expensive and the national anti-corruption bureau opened an investigation.
Stepanov denied wrongdoing and said "dirty information attacks" on the ministry's work were hampering negotiations with other suppliers for more vaccines.
Stepanov said the Chinese vaccine had been due to arrive in the next few days.
"I gave an order to clarify the situation with the counterparty, but something tells me that there may be a postponement," he said, adding that delays of vaccine shipments were happening elsewhere in Europe.
Lekhim declined comment.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had a coronavirus vaccine shot during a visit with soldiers in the eastern Donbass region on Tuesday, hoping to reassure sceptics that the vaccine is safe and effective.
The government cited statistics showing that 47% of Ukrainians do not want the vaccine.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Alex Richardson)