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Russian COVID spike goes on, record deaths

Russia has reported a record-high number of COVID-19 infections and deaths as the country approaches a week of non-working days aimed at stemming a sharp surge in cases.

The national coronavirus task force said on Saturday 1075 people had died from the virus in the past day and 37,678 new infections were tallied – the largest single-day numbers of the pandemic.

The daily death toll is about 33 per cent higher than in late September and infection cases have risen by about 70 per cent in the past month.

Only about one-third of Russia’s 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, frustrating officials and placing a strain on the country’s healthcare system.

Facing widespread resistance to vaccination, President Vladimir Putin has responded to the worsening situation by ordering Russians to stay away from work between October 30 and November 7.

Many regions are imposing additional restrictions, including closing gyms, theatres and sit-down service at restaurants, or restricting access to customers who can show QR codes confirming they are fully vaccinated.

Russia has recorded about 8.2 million cases of COVID-19 infection and 229,528 deaths, according to the task force.

However, that toll counts only deaths attributed directly to the virus; the national statistics service Rosstat has reported tens of thousands of additional deaths in which the virus was considered to be a contributing factor.

Russia was the first country in the world to authorise a COVID-19 vaccine, launching Sputnik V in August 2020, and has plentiful supplies.

But uptake has been slow, blamed in part on conflicting signals from authorities.

While extolling Sputnik V and three other domestic vaccines, state-controlled media often criticised Western-made shots, a message that many saw as feeding doubts about vaccines in general.

Putin has deplored Russians’ vaccine hesitancy, saying “there are just two options for everyone – to get sick, or receive a vaccine. And there is no way to walk between the raindrops”.

Asked if Russia could make vaccines mandatory, Putin said this week he believes they should remain voluntary.

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