MOSCOW (AP) – Russian authorities reported a record 679 new coronavirus deaths on Friday, a fourth consecutive day with the highest daily death toll from the pandemic.
No lockdown plans are under discussion, however, the Kremlin insisted.
The previous record of 672 deaths was recorded on Thursday. Russia has struggled to cope with an increase in infections and deaths in recent weeks, which comes amid slow vaccination rates.
New daily infections have more than doubled in the past month, from around 9,000 in early June to more than 20,000 this week. Russia’s state coronavirus task force on Friday reported 23,218 new contagions. Moscow, its peripheral region and St. Petersburg account for almost half of all new cases.
Yet authorities are not discussing a lockdown, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday. “No one wants a lockdown,” Peskov told reporters on a daily conference call, admitting that the situation with the coronavirus in a number of Russian regions is “tense”.
“To keep this going undetected, we all need to get vaccinated as soon as possible. “
Russian officials attributed the increase in the number of cases to the Russian lax attitude towards taking precautions, the increasing prevalence of more infectious variants and slow vaccination rates. Although Russia was among the first countries to announce and deploy a vaccine against the coronavirus, just over 23 million people – or 15% of its 146 million population – have received at least one injection.
Experts attributed the relatively low uptake of the vaccine to widespread reluctance to vaccines and limited production capacity. So far, only 36.7 million sets of the four nationally developed vaccines have been released. Nonetheless, this week, Russian health authorities gave the green light to a recall of coronavirus vaccinations for people immune more than six months ago.
In the midst of the latest wave of cases, around 20 Russian regions – from Moscow and St. Petersburg to the remote far-eastern region of Sakhalin – made vaccination compulsory last month for employees in certain industries. The move apparently helped speed up the vaccination campaign in recent weeks, but also caused a setback. Small protests against mandatory vaccinations erupted in Moscow and the Sakhalin region this week.
As of Monday, restaurants, bars and cafes in Moscow can only admit customers who have been vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, or can provide a negative test within the previous 72 hours. Customers must visit a government website and obtain a QR code, a digital model designed to be read by a scanner.
Authorities in Moscow said on Friday that anyone with symptoms of respiratory infection should self-isolate at least until they get a negative coronavirus test. “From today we will consider all cases of acute respiratory infections as highly probable coronavirus infections,” Deputy Mayor Anastasia Rakova said.
The Russian Coronavirus Task Force has reported more than 5.5 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the pandemic and 136,565 deaths.
Russia only had one six-week nationwide lockdown last spring, and authorities have largely avoided tight restrictions that would require businesses to shut down since then. Only one Russian region – the Siberian Republic of Buryatia – has since experienced two local closures, the latest in effect since Sunday.