Regions across Russia have reintroduced tough anti-coronavirus restrictions as the country faces record-breaking deaths and new infections amid a lackluster vaccination campaign.
Schools, coffee shops and many offices in Moscow will be closed until November 7, and Vladimir Putin has authorized a week-long vacation period for all Russians which is seen as a creeping lockdown to combat the increase in the number of Covid, with records for the number of cases and deaths being counted daily.
The latest wave of infections in Russia has put the Kremlin in the difficult position of admitting a national failure to stop the spread of the disease, but also to distance itself from the new strict lockdown measures which are extremely unpopular among ordinary Russians, nearly half of whom said they did not plan to get the vaccine.
On Thursday, the government reported 1,159 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest since the outbreak began in 2020. More than 40,000 infections have been reported, also a daily record for Russia.
Neighboring Ukraine has also reported a record number of deaths and new cases of Covid, as both countries grapple with widespread reluctance to vaccinate. Some of those who are required to vaccinate, such as teachers, have sought to avoid the restriction by purchasing fake vaccination certificates, officials complained.
A record 734 deaths from the coronavirus were reported in Ukraine on Tuesday. Health Minister Viktor Lyashko called the surge in hospital admissions “creeping”. “I call on you all to get vaccinated,” he said in a briefing on Wednesday. “We can and must stop these sad statistics. Just over 16% of Ukraine’s population has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to state data, one of the lowest rates in Europe.
Under pressure on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the existence of compulsory vaccination plans in Russia and also denied reports that the Kremlin would relaunch its brand new media campaign for vaccination. Just over 30% of Russians have received two doses of one of the vaccines produced in Russia, according to government data. The Kremlin’s initial target was 60% fully vaccinated by the end of the summer.
“Until we achieve our goal and reach the threshold of public immunity, we will consider all our efforts as insufficient,” Peskov said in a telephone briefing with reporters. “These conditions are very simple: an unvaccinated person can die, an unvaccinated person will find their life uncomfortable. Harsh conditions are dictated by circumstances.
Enforcement of the new lockdown measures has largely fallen to regional officials, who have taken on the unpopular task of temporarily shutting down local businesses or reintroducing the use of unpopular QR codes that were described last year as a “cybergulag” .
“The situation in Moscow is turning out to be a worst-case scenario,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote on his blog as he announced the anti-coronavirus restrictions last week. Advising Muscovites to go to the park or spend a few days in a country house, he wrote: “Let’s relax a bit and we will help save the lives and health of many people. And then the city will be able to resume a normal life.
Past restrictions have been criticized by small business owners in Moscow who have lost income from their clients while seeing little financial support from the government.
Moscow residents flocked to bars and restaurants on Wednesday night before the closures, while others planned to head to resorts to avoid staying in Moscow during the impromptu holidays. Cities around Russia, including St. Petersburg and Sochi, have braced for an influx of Muscovites in hopes of avoiding the restrictions. Areas of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, have set up checkpoints for vaccination certificates or negative PCR tests.
According to the guidelines, schools in Moscow will be closed, restaurants and cafes will be limited to providing take-out orders, offices will be severely restricted, and most in-person government services will be suspended.
Putin also confirmed this week the decision to ban restaurants and bars across the country from remaining open between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Earlier this week, the head of the Russian laboratory that developed the Sputnik V vaccine said that most Russians who claimed to have been vaccinated and then fell ill bought fake vaccine certificates to avoid receiving the vaccine. “People spend money and then they get sick and die for their own money,” said Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya center. “They are fooling themselves. “