Putin expected to order new virus restrictions as deaths soar

Moscow (AFP) – Russia reported Wednesday a record 1,028 Covid deaths in a single day, with President Vladimir Putin expected to introduce new nationwide restrictions in Europe's worst affected country.


The new figures bring Russia's official death toll to 226,353 -- the highest on the continent even as authorities have been accused of vastly downplaying the severity of the pandemic.

The country also recorded 34,074 new virus cases, according to an official tally.

Infection rates have soared in recent weeks amid a stalled vaccination program, with only 35 percent of the country fully innoculated.

Putin is expected later on Wednesday to rule on a government proposal to introduce a nationwide week-long holiday at the end of the month to curb the spread of the virus.

Under the plan, Russians will not go to work the first week of November, which coincides with national school holidays.

Putin has introduced paid holidays during coronavirus peaks before, most recently in May.

On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin ordered the capital's first coronavirus restrictions since the summer.

He told unvaccinated over-60s in Moscow to work from home and extended mandatory vaccinations for service workers. Those restrictions take effect next Monday and are set to last until the end of February.

Sobyanin also told employers to move 30 percent of their staff to home working.

The surge in cases has come without any strict restrictions in place to limit Covid-19's spread and as authorities struggle to counter widespread anti-vaccine sentiment.

Life in Moscow, which is home to more than 12 million people, was normal on Wednesday, with restaurants and other indoor entertainment venues open as usual.

'Worsening' situation

Officials warned the worst was yet to come and that the number of hospitalisations was growing at a rate faster than in previous waves.

"The coronavirus situation in Moscow is worsening," said the city's deputy mayor Anastasia Rakova.

She said it was the first time the capital has seen such 30-percent growth in cases for five consecutive weeks.

"In no previous period have we observed such a high growth rate."

Russia has struggled to inoculate its citizens despite domestic vaccines including Sputnik V being widely available.

Despite Putin repeatedly calling on Russias to get vaccinated, independent polls show that more than half do not plan to get a shot.

The 69-year-old leader said he has been vaccinated with Sputnik V.

Last month, he self-isolated for two weeks after dozens of virus cases were detected in his inner circle.

The longtime Russian leader insists that the country has handled the pandemic better than most countries, but even top officials have recently voiced concern.

Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy chairman of the lower house, said at the weekend that the authorities had "completely lost" an information campaign on coronavirus.

"There is no trust in people to go and vaccinate themselves, it is a fact," he said.

Putin's spokesman on Tuesday urged Russians to be "more responsible" and admitted that the government could have done more to explain the "lack of alternative to vaccines".

Western vaccines are not available in Russia, and Peskov insisted that bringing them into the country would not help the sluggish vaccination rates.

On Monday, the second city of Saint Petersburg announced it would tighten restrictions to battle the virus, introducing a health pass to regulate access to crowd events from November 1.