Moscow shuts down as Russia sees record COVID-19 cases, deaths

Recent weeks have seen daily numbers of cases and deaths hit the highest of the pandemic, with the official government tally on Thursday reporting new records of 40,096 infections and 1,159 fatalities.

FILE: Russian National Guard servicemen wearing face masks walk along Red Square past an ambulance in central Moscow on 18 June 2021. Picture: Alexander NEMENOV/AFP

MOSCOW - Russia reported record numbers of daily coronavirus cases and deaths on Thursday as Moscow shut down non-essential services for 11 days to combat the surge in infections.

The country hardest-hit in Europe by the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia has struggled with low vaccination rates despite developing several of its own jabs.

Recent weeks have seen daily numbers of cases and deaths hit the highest of the pandemic, with the official government tally on Thursday reporting new records of 40,096 infections and 1,159 fatalities.

Authorities have shied away from the kind of severe lockdowns imposed in many countries, but have shut down all non-essential services in Moscow from Thursday until 7 November.

Retail outlets, restaurants, and sporting and entertainment venues are all closed, along with schools and kindergartens. Only shops selling food, medicine, and other essentials are allowed to remain open.

President Vladimir Putin's government has been pinning its hopes on homegrown vaccines like the Sputnik V jab, but Russians have proven stubbornly resistant to being inoculated.

As of Thursday, only 32% of Russia's population had been fully vaccinated, according to the Gogov website, which tallies COVID-19 data from the regions.

Roads in Moscow on Thursday were slightly less congested than usual, but the city's sprawling Metro network was as busy as ever, with many passengers not wearing masks.

Authorities have not required Russians to stay at home during the non-working period and many were planning to use the days to travel across the country and abroad.

The mayor of the Black Sea resort city of Sochi has warned of a huge influx of tourists, and demand in Russia for flights bound for Turkey and Egypt has soared.

On the streets of the capital, some Muscovites said they approved of the restrictions, while others said they did not go far enough.

"I think it's important to save someone's life rather than be entertained, especially given that it's not for a long time," Vladimir Chizhov, a 45-year-old programmer, said of the decision to close cinemas, bars, and restaurants.

'TOUGHER MEASURES NEEDED'

But Arseny Kubanov, a 35-year-old sound engineer, said restrictions similar to European lockdowns were needed.

"Tougher measures should be introduced until everyone is vaccinated, the way it was in Europe," he said.

"Otherwise, it is quite meaningless - this will continue wave after wave until everyone is vaccinated anyway."

Putin last week ordered a nationwide paid holiday between 30 October and 7 November in a bid to reverse rising infections, and Moscow authorities followed suit by ordering the shutdown of non-essential services in the capital from Thursday.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that authorities were not yet planning to make jabs mandatory for everyone, despite the rising cases and low vaccination rates.

"The figures so far give no cause for optimism," Peskov told reporters. "We will see how the situation develops further."

Russia has recorded nearly 8.4 million coronavirus cases and more than 235,000 deaths, though independent experts say authorities have downplayed the severity of the pandemic.

Figures published by statistics agency Rosstat in October paint a darker picture, suggesting that more than 400,000 people have died in the country from COVID-19.

After a severe months-long lockdown early in the pandemic, Russian authorities have been hesitant to impose further restrictions that would hurt the economy, instead pleading with Russians to get vaccinated.

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