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Russia puts onus on regional leaders to step up COVID fight

·3-min read
Vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow

By Anton Zverev

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia ordered regional leaders on Tuesday to step up their fight against COVID-19 as the daily death toll hit a record for the sixth time in eight days.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said infections were up by more than 10% in the past week and 268,500 people were receiving treatment in hospitals across the country's 85 regions.

Doctors report packed wards and a heavy strain on resources and staff, including junior doctors and medical students who have been brought in to help.

"At the moment the hospital is completely full. It has 540 beds - 490 patients in the department and 50 patients in the intensive care unit," said Roman Mironov, deputy chief physician at a hospital in Volzhskiy, 900 km (550 miles) southeast of Moscow.

"Most of them - 98-99% - are not vaccinated," he told Reuters.

Murashko singled out 13 regions where authorities needed to make more beds available and tighten restrictions on people's movements. They ranged from Vladimir, just east of Moscow, to sparsely populated Chukotka, which faces Alaska across the Bering Strait.

With Russia struggling to contain surging infections and deaths, and frustrated by low domestic take-up of the Sputnik V vaccine it has developed and sold around the world, the Kremlin has sought to pin responsibility on regional authorities to do more.

President Vladimir Putin has declared a nationwide workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7 but encouraged regions to impose extra measures at their own discretion.

"The president has urged governors to use their powers more actively. Everything will depend on the situation in the particular region," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

UNVACCINATED

A handful of regions have already sent employees home on paid "non-working days". Moscow's mayor has ordered unvaccinated under-60s to stay at home for four months and will shut all but essential shops, such as pharmacies and supermarkets, from Thursday.

The measures are the tightest in the capital since June 2020, although Peskov said it was wrong to describe them as a lockdown.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said infections in the capital had risen by 14% in the past week and were still rising, "but maybe not at the same rate".

Authorities reported 1,106 COVID-19 deaths nationwide in the past 24 hours, the highest figure since the start of the pandemic. New cases stood at 36,446, down from 37,930 a day earlier.

As an incentive to get inoculated, Putin has ordered that employees get two paid days off work, and some signs have emerged that people are responding. RIA news agency quoted authorities in Siberia's Altai region as saying demand to get vaccinated had surged by 43% in a week.

Some companies, though, are bristling at the order to shut down from Thursday.

Anastasia Tatulova, a public ombudsman for small businesses, launched a social media campaign demanding that the government do more to compensate businesses and employees.

"Business for 1.5 years has been under the pressure of restrictions and is no longer able to cover the costs of rent, salaries and taxes," she said.

(Additional reporting by Kirill Braga in Volzhskiy and Gleb Stolyarov in Moscow; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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