Moscow records pandemic high for Covid cases for second day running

Russia’s capital Moscow on Saturday reported a pandemic high for new coronavirus cases for the second consecutive day, as the city’s hospitals are flooded with new patients due to the Delta variant.

The city registered 9,120 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours, according to government figures, a second consecutive high topping the previous day’s total of 9,056 cases. 

Those figures have ballooned from just 3,000 daily just two weeks ago, with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin saying Friday that the highly infectious Delta variant first identified in India represents nearly 90 percent of new cases.

The new wave of infections come as Russia’s second city of Saint Petersburg, the country’s worst Covid hotspot after Moscow, is slated to host seven Euro 2020 matches — including a quarter-final on July 2 — expected to draw thousands of European football fans.

Having claimed the worst of the pandemic had passed over winter, officials are now scurrying to reintroduce pandemic restrictions and roll out new beds dedicated to coronavirus patients after months of near-normal life.

On Monday, Saint Petersburg announced a tightening of restrictions including no food sales in its Euro 2020 fan zones. 

Measures have been more drastic in Moscow, where Sobyanin on Friday shuttered the city’s fan zone, banned gatherings of more than 1,000, suspended all mass entertainment events and closed dance halls. 

He also extended several measures that he had announced last weekend, like the closure of food halls in malls, zoos and playgrounds, and of bars and restaurants from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am.

Sobyanin, who has taken a leading role in Russia’s response to the pandemic, has said the measures are necessary because the capital’s hospitals were inundated with Covid patients within days.

On Thursday, he said that in just five days 13,000 free hospital beds had been “eaten up” and that the city has since expanded to 17,000 beds.

– Forced vaccinations –

One of his deputies, Anastasia Rakova, said in a statement Saturday that Moscow would add another 7,000 beds over the next two weeks, bringing the total to 24,000.

But the most drastic measure Sobyanin introduced this week was ordering mandatory vaccination for residents of the Russian capital working in the service industry, saying some 60 percent would have to be fully inoculated by August 15.

Although free jabs have been available to Russians since December, just 19.5 million out of a population of some 146 million have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the Gogov website which tallies Covid figures from the regions and the media.

In Moscow, only 1.5 million of the capital’s roughly 12 million people have been fully vaccinated.

– Fight over figures –

While Russia imposed a national lockdown when Covid first began spreading last spring, authorities have not reintroduced the measure since lifting it last summer in the hopes of buttressing a struggling economy. 

They have instead banked on the country’s four vaccines — Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona, CoviVac and the one-dose Sputnik Light — to curtail the pandemic.

But they have faced a populace sceptical of inoculation, with one recent independent survey saying that 60 percent of Russians do not intend to be vaccinated.

Russia is among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with the sixth-highest number of cases in the world, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

On Thursday, it overtook Britain as the European country to suffer the most Covid deaths, which on Saturday stood at 128,911. 

But Kremlin critics have accused authorities of downplaying the severity of the pandemic by only counting fatalities where Covid was found to be the primary cause of death after autopsy. 

Figures released by federal statistics agency Rosstat show that Russia had recorded at least 270,000 virus-related deaths by the end of April.

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