Russia's infections, deaths soar to pandemic's highest

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia on Thursday registered the highest daily numbers of new coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic as the authorities hoped to slow the spread by introducing a nonworking week.

The government coronavirus task force reported 36,339 new confirmed infections and 1,036 deaths in the past 24 hours that brought Russia’s death toll to 227,389 — by far the highest in Europe.

Russia’s daily infections have been surging for weeks and coronavirus mortality numbers topped 1,000 for the first time over the weekend amid low vaccination rates, lax public attitudes toward taking precautions and the government’s reluctance to tighten restrictions. Only about 45 million Russians — roughly a third of its nearly 146 million people — are fully vaccinated.

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday responded to rising contagion and deaths by ordering Russians to stay off work for a period starting Oct. 30 and extending through the following week, when four of seven days are already non-working, including a two-day state holiday. In some regions where the situation is the most threatening, he said the nonworking period could start as early as Saturday and be extended past Nov. 7.

The nonworking period should help limit the spread by keeping people out of offices and off crowded public transportation. The government also urged local authorities to restrict access to restaurants, theaters and other entertainment venues during the period.

Until now, the Kremlin ruled out a nationwide lockdown like the one early in the pandemic that dealt a heavy blow to the economy and sapped Putin’s popularity, instead empowering regional authorities to decide on local restrictions.

Many of Russia’s 85 regions already have restricted attendance at large public events and introduced digital codes proving vaccination or past illness for access to restaurants, theaters and other venues. Some have made vaccinations compulsory for certain public servants and people over 60.

In Moscow, however, life has continued as usual, with restaurants and movie theaters brimming with people, crowds swarming nightclubs and karaoke bars, and commuters widely ignoring mask mandates on public transportation even as ICUs have filled.

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