A customers wears a protective face mask inside a cafe as a television screen displays Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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Russians have been told to take a paid week off work in order to try to combat the Covid-19 crisis in the country, as the number of daily deaths from the virus hit its highest level since the start of the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin announced that, “in order to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) and to protect public health, the President has announced that October 30 to November 7, 2021, inclusive, will be paid non-working days.”
The Kremlin said it recommended that the measure be implemented across Russia. To date, the country’s separate regions have largely been in control of designating their own Covid rules and restrictions throughout the public health crisis.
At a meeting with the government Wednesday, Putin told officials, “We know that, unfortunately, this problem is also escalating, and that it is impossible to overlook it.” He announced he supports the proposal for a week of paid, nonworking days from Oct. 30, and for this to start earlier in regions particularly badly affected by Covid cases.
The move comes as Russia, which has been one of the hardest-hit countries by Covid, battles a rising death toll. On Thursday, it reported a record high 36,339 new infections and 1,036 fatalities. To date, there have been 227,389 Covid deaths in Russia and it has recorded more than 8.1 million infections.
How bad is it?
Russia’s daily cases and death toll have been creeping up for weeks now, largely because a significant proportion of the population remains unvaccinated. Covid vaccines are proven to greatly reduce the risk of severe infection, hospitalization and death.
On Wednesday, Putin once again implored Russian citizens to take up the vaccines, stating that: “we are seeing the dangerous consequences of the low vaccination levels in our country. I repeat once again: vaccination really reduces the risks of severe illness or serious complications after, and the threat of death … I also once again urge all citizens to get vaccinated. This is about protecting yourself, about your safety, even your life, your relatives’ health.”
There are also concerns about waning immunity in those who are fully vaccinated, as clinical data shows immunity provided by Covid vaccines wanes after around six months.
Another worry is the discovery of a mutation of the delta variant — currently the dominant strain worldwide — that is being identified in increasing numbers in the U.K., which is also seeing a dramatic spike in cases. Although the mutation has been found in Russia, it’s too early to tell if it is having an impact on rising infection numbers.
Read more: The delta variant has a mutation that’s worrying experts: Here’s what we know so far
Russia’s deputy prime minister, Tatyana Golikova, presented the country’s epidemiological situation to Putin and the government on Wednesday, noting that it “is becoming more complicated.”
“For over a month, we have seen a steady growth in the incidence and today, the number of new Covid-19 cases reported is approaching 35,000 a day,” she said, with incidence rates increasing in all age groups. She also described a “very heavy burden on the healthcare system” as hospitalizations rise.
“There are currently 276,500 beds deployed in the Russian Federation, of which 66.1% are equipped with oxygen. As of yesterday morning, 86.6% of all beds in the country were occupied,” Golikova noted. “We are particularly worried about the growing death rates from COVID-19. Recently, we have been losing over 1,000 people every day. These are terrible figures.”
Russia’s Covid vaccination rate has been a persistent bugbear for the state given that the majority of the population are skeptical of receiving the country’s own vaccine, Sputnik V.
Read more: Putin says Russia won’t make Covid vaccines compulsory, but skepticism remains a problem
“I would like to emphasise that the grievous course of the disease and the high death rates are being observed in unvaccinated people. We are seeing a gradual increase in the vaccination rates, but it is still insufficient. Today, this figure is a little over 45%,” Golikova said.