Daily new COVID-19 infections in Russia hit an all-time high as authorities blamed the highly contagious Omicron variant, which they hope will soon dominate the country’s outbreak.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova on Friday noted the “intense spread of the Omicron variant” and said authorities expect it to become the dominant strain driving the outbreak.
The state coronavirus task force reported 49,513 new infections on the same day, the highest so far in the pandemic.
Record numbers of 15,987 new cases and 5,922 cases, respectively, were reported in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city.
In light of the surge, health officials in St. Petersburg limited elective outpatient care.
Golikova urged Russians who received their vaccinations or recovered from the virus more than six months ago to “go to a vaccination point again” to protect themselves with a booster.
Also on Friday, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered cabinet members to hold meetings online and for his staff to work remotely “whenever possible.”
Nearly half of Russia’s 146 million people have been fully vaccinated despite the country being among the first in the world to approve and launch a COVID-19 vaccine.
In Russia, all people who received their primary vaccination more than six months ago are eligible for a booster vaccination from July.
Gogov.ru, an independent website that tracks vaccinations, estimates that 8.8 million people have received a booster shot since then, out of about 21.8 million who qualify.
Daily new infections in Russia have risen steadily since January 10, when just over 15,000 new cases were recorded, a figure that tripled on Friday to exceed 49,000 in less than two weeks. Friday’s daily tally was more than 10,000 higher than the day before.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force has recorded 324,752 deaths since the start of the pandemic, Europe’s worst death toll by far.
Russia’s state statistics agency, which uses broader counting criteria, pushes the death toll from the pandemic even higher, saying the total number of virus-related deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 exceeded 625,000.
Russian authorities admit the current surge could end up as the country’s biggest yet, but have so far not announced any major restrictions to stop it.
A nationwide lockdown was not under discussion, officials said, and last week the government decided to postpone indefinitely introducing restrictions on unvaccinated people, which would have been extremely unpopular with Russians hesitant to get vaccinated.
Earlier this week, Golikova also announced a decision to reduce the required isolation period for people infected with COVID-19 from 14 days to seven days, although it is not yet clear when it will take effect.
Officials say the surge in infections so far has not led to an increase in hospitalizations.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the current surge is putting more pressure on outpatient facilities than on hospitals in the city of nearly 13 million. City officials have increased the number of doctors on call at outpatient clinics.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism