Russia orders new shutdowns in Moscow as covid deaths continue to rise

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The Moscow city government has ordered people aged 60 and over to stay at home for four months and urged companies to have at least 30 percent of staff working from home amid a sharp increase in covid-19 cases and deaths in Russia.

The new rules will take effect from October 25, it is said in a statement.

Russia reported 1,015 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday (local time), the highest one-day high since the pandemic began, as well as 33,740 new infections in the last 24 hours.

The Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown as the early pandemic hit the economy hard and slashed President Vladimir Putin’s popularity

The daily number of deadly coronaviruses has increased for weeks, peaking at 1,000 for the first time over the weekend amid sluggish vaccination levels, a loosening of public attitudes to precautionary measures and the government’s unwillingness to tighten restrictions.

Russia boasted of becoming the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine in August 2020 – even if it was only tested on a small scale – and proudly named the shot Sputnik V after the world’s first satellite to underline the country’s scientific achievements.

While Sputnik and three other domestic vaccines were later developed, Russia’s state-controlled media shook the perceived shortcomings of Western shots, a controversial message that many observers saw as raising widespread doubt about vaccines.

Vaccinations are still low

a Russian medical staff administers a shot of Sputnik V vaccine to a person's arm in Moscow
The Sputnik V vaccine was first approved in August last year and launched in Russia in December.(AP: Pavel Golovkin)

In the midst of widespread hesitation against vaccines, the authorities have increased the pressure on medical workers, teachers and public servants to obtain the shots, but uptake has been sluggish.

The government’s coronavirus working group said on Monday that about 45 million Russians, or 32 percent of the country’s nearly 146 million people, are fully vaccinated.

Putin has stressed the importance of broad vaccination, but stressed that it should remain voluntary.

Authorities have opened vaccination centers in malls and other facilities outside clinics and tried to encourage people to take shots with lotteries, bonuses and other incentives, but all these efforts have not been able to significantly accelerate efforts.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that although the government has made every effort to make vaccines readily available, it should have been more proactive in its efforts to encourage vaccination.

Asked whether the government can allow the import of foreign vaccines to increase uptake, Peskov said that vaccine skepticism is not limited to domestic shots.

He also emphasized that the issue should be resolved on equal terms. Russia-EU talks on mutual recognition of coronavirus vaccines have dragged on with no end in sight.

While opposing a nationwide shutdown, the Kremlin allowed authorities in the country’s 11 time zones to decide on restrictions depending on the local situation.

Many of Russia’s 85 regions already have limited attendance at major public events and limited access to theaters, restaurants and other venues.

Some have made vaccination compulsory for certain categories of officials and people over 60.

Russian fall poses a threat to Europe

An elderly man wearing a blue mask and gloves.  A man next to him is not wearing a mask.
Mask mandates are loosely enforced in major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.(AP: Alexander Zemlianichenko)

St. Petersburg joined other Russian cities on Monday to order digital codes to prove vaccination or recovery from infection for access to conferences and sporting events beginning on November 1.

From 15 November, these codes will also be required in films, theaters, museums and gyms, and on 1 December they will be mandatory in restaurants, cafés and certain shops.

The city has reported the country’s second largest number of new infections after Moscow.

The government’s working group has registered a total of more than 8 million infections and its official covid-19 toll is ranked as Russia having the fifth most pandemic deaths in the world after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.

However, the state statistics agency Rosstat, which also counts deaths where the virus was not considered the main cause, reported a much higher death rate in a pandemic – about 418,000 people with COVID-19 in August.

Based on that number, Russia would be the fourth hardest hit nation, ahead of Mexico.

Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the COVID-19 situation in Russia was extremely worrying, not only for Russia but for the rest of the world.

He said that even high levels of vaccination elsewhere in Europe could not prevent the virus from being re-imported from Russia, especially if there were some worrying new variants.

“Until we have control of the virus everywhere, there is a risk of import and the pandemic will not be under control,” he said, describing the spread of the virus in Russia and the Baltic states as a threat to Europe.

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Recycling of the waste COVID-19 has created(Emilia Terzon)

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