Russian President Vladimir Putin has said dozens of people around the Kremlin have tested positive for the coronavirus, which has affected more than 7 million people in the hard-hit country.
Earlier this week, Putin, 68, said he was self-isolating after announcing an outbreak among those around him.
“Cases of coronavirus have been detected around me. Not just one or two, but several dozen people, ”Putin said, speaking via video link at a meeting of a Moscow-led security alliance.
Putin was scheduled to attend the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) meeting in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe in person, but instead joined remotely.
News of the extent of the outbreak in the Kremlin comes a day ahead of a staggered three-day parliamentary elections open in Russia to limit the spread of the virus.
Authorities have gone to great lengths to protect Putin – who has been vaccinated with the Russian Sputnik V jab – since the start of the pandemic.
Foreign leaders, journalists and officials all had to isolate themselves before meeting with the longtime Russian leader.
Putin met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and returning athletes from the Tokyo Paralympics this week, just before the Kremlin declared it is self-isolating.
Russia has the fifth highest number of recorded Covid cases, according to an AFP tally, and has struggled to bring infections under control despite easy access to vaccines.
According to the latest figures, the country has recorded more than 7 million cases and 195,041 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe.
Infections have declined in recent days after rising this summer, but health officials still reported 18,841 new cases and 792 new deaths on Wednesday.
Authorities have battled a population skeptical of vaccines, with independent polls showing a majority of Russians do not plan to be vaccinated.
About 40.2 million of Russia’s 146 million people had been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to the Gogov website, which lists Covid data from the regions.
Russia has several locally grown vaccines available to the public, but does not distribute any western-made vaccine.
Moscow, the center of the epidemic in Russia, and a host of regions have introduced mandatory vaccination measures to speed up the vaccination campaign, and Putin has repeatedly called on Russians to be vaccinated.
The Kremlin initially set a goal of fully immunizing 60% of Russia’s population by September, but later abandoned that goal even though free jabs have been available since early December.
Russian authorities have been accused of largely downplaying the effects of the pandemic and, after a tight first lockdown in 2020, refrained from introducing further restrictive measures.
Instead, the country has placed its hopes of reducing the pandemic on its four local vaccines – Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona, CoviVac and the single-dose Sputnik Light.