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World News

Ukraine temporarily bars most foreigners amid pandemic after Israel pilgrimage plea

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine on Wednesday imposed a temporary ban on most foreigners from entering the country until Sept. 28 and extended lockdown measures until the end of October to contain a recent spike in coronavirus cases.

A man wearing a protective face mask amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crosses a street in central Kyiv, Ukraine August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Speaking at a televised cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal also said the government would need to take a decision on Thursday on whether to ban major public events in September.

“The rise in coronavirus infections we have seen in recent weeks is forcing us to act more decisively,” Shmygal said.

The daily tally of new infections jumped to around 2,000 last week with a record high of 2,328 on Saturday. The total number of infections reached 110,085 on Wednesday, with 2,354 deaths.

Shmygal said Wednesday’s decisions were partly in response to a plea from Israel to prevent an influx of Hasidic Jews travelling to the central Ukrainian town of Uman for an annual pilgrimage, fearing it may become a virus hotspot.

“We must protect our citizens and show responsibility to our foreign partners,” Shmygal said.

Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews descend on Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810. Jewish New Year celebrations run from Sept. 18-20 this year.

The head of Israel’s coronavirus task force asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to ban the event this year..

Some foreigners would be exempted from the new curbs, including diplomats and passengers in transit to other countries, Shmygal said.

Ukraine’s government decided to ease lockdown rules imposed in March for economic reasons, after seeing gross domestic product shrink 11.4% in the second quarter year-on-year, showing the deepest quarterly fall since 2015.

The authorities do not plan to lock down the whole country again, but have reimposed some restrictions such as limiting public transport.

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Nick Macfie

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