By Pavel Polityuk
KYIV – Ukrainians who knowingly use or manufacture fake COVID-19 vaccine certificates face fines or jail under new legislation passed in parliament in the first reading on Tuesday to tackle record levels of coronavirus infections and deaths.
Ukraine lagged behind other European countries in obtaining coronavirus vaccines this year and is now struggling to persuade a sceptical public to take them.
Vaccines have become mandatory for some state workers, and in “red” zone areas including the capital Kyiv, only vaccinated people or those with negative COVID test results are allowed into restaurants, gyms and on public transport.
That has led to a flourishing black market in bogus certificates and the police have opened hundreds of criminal cases across the country.
“Lack of responsibility for such crimes creates preconditions for further … forgery of documents,” Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said on the parliament website, adding that it “poses a direct threat to the life and health of citizens of Ukraine.”
The draft law stipulates a fine of up to $2,600 or two to three years in prison for using knowingly false vaccination documents and for entering false vaccination data in medical registries.
The production of false documents for future sale will be punishable by imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of about $6,460, the draft said.
Ukraine had registered 2.96 million infections and 68,727 deaths as of Nov. 2. Only 7.5 million people, or less than a fifth of the total population of around 41 million, has been fully vaccinated so far.
An October poll by the Rating research agency showed that 43% of Ukrainians were not ready to take the coronavirus vaccine.
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Marguerita Choy)