Wednesday, December 1

Moscow Closes Most Workplaces As COVID Cases And Deaths Rise

The Russian capital began a non-working period on Thursday aimed at halting coronavirus infections as new daily cases and deaths from COVID-19 rose to record highs.

The government coronavirus task force reported 1,159 deaths in 24 hours, the highest daily count since the pandemic began. The official death toll from the pandemic in the country, by far the highest in Europe, now stands at 235,057.

To curb the spread of the virus, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a non-working period from October 30 to November 7, when most state organizations and private companies will suspend their operations. He encouraged hardest-hit regions to start earlier, with some ordering most of their residents to leave work earlier this week.

Moscow followed up on Thursday, closing kindergartens, schools, gymnasiums, entertainment venues and most stores, and allowing restaurants and cafes to only provide takeout or home delivery service. Food stores, pharmacies, and companies operating the key infrastructure remained open.

Access to museums, theaters, concert halls and other venues is limited to people who have digital codes on their smartphones to prove they have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, a practice that will remain in effect after November 7.

Putin has also instructed local officials to close nightclubs and other entertainment venues and ordered people over 60 who are not vaccinated to stay home.

The number of new daily cases in Russia rose by 40,096 on Thursday, beating a previous record reached earlier this week. The government hopes the non-working period will help curb the spread by keeping most people out of offices and public transportation.

But many Russians quickly sought to seize the time for a seaside vacation ahead of the long winter season.

Concerned authorities in southern Russia took steps to close entertainment venues and limit access to restaurants and bars to prevent an increase in infections. Sales of tour packages to Egypt and Turkey also increased.

Authorities have attributed the increase in contagion and deaths to the slow rate of vaccination. Only about 49 million Russians, about a third of the country’s nearly 146 million people, are fully vaccinated.

Russia was the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine in August 2020, and proudly named the Sputnik V injection after the first artificial satellite to showcase the country’s scientific prowess. But the vaccination campaign has collapsed amid widespread public skepticism attributed to conflicting signals from authorities.

Putin has deplored the Russians’ vacillation over vaccines. “There are only two options for everyone: get sick or get a vaccine,” he said last week. “And there is no way to walk through the raindrops.”

Regional officials have made vaccines mandatory for certain categories of workers, but Putin rejected proposals to make them mandatory for everyone, emphasizing that they must remain voluntary.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that authorities will continue their efforts to persuade Russians to get vaccinated until the goal of achieving herd immunity is achieved.

“This is an ongoing campaign that should and is being carried out on an ongoing basis,” Peskov said, dismissing a newspaper report that alleges authorities plan to relaunch a campaign promoting vaccination. “We need to persuade everyone.”

When asked if the Kremlin could eventually make vaccines mandatory, Peskov said only that authorities would closely monitor the figures.

“We will see how the situation evolves,” Peskov said during a conference call with journalists. “For now, the figures do not give cause for optimism.”

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