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Moscow tightens restrictions as infections, deaths soar

By AP | Oct 21, 2021

Medics wearing a special suit to protect against coronavirus treat a patient with coronavirus at an ICU at the Moscow City Clinical Hospital 52, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Russia hit another daily record of coronavirus deaths Tuesday as rapidly surging infection rates raised pressure on the country's health care system and prompted the government to suggest declaring a nonworking week.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW (AP) — The authorities in Moscow on Thursday announced a plan to shut restaurants and non-food stores and introduce other restrictions later this month as Russia registered the highest daily numbers of new coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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.

Russian 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, and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin followed up Thursday by introducing a slew of restrictions in the capital.

He said all restaurants, cafes and non-food stores, gyms, movies and other entertainment venues in the Russian capital will be shut for a period from Oct. 28 to Nov. 7, and schools and kindergartens will also be closed. Access to museums, theaters and other venues will be limited to holders of digital codes proving vaccination or past illness, a practice that will also remain in place after Nov. 7.

“The situation in Moscow is developing according to the worst-case scenario,” Sobyanin wrote on his blog, adding that the number of infections in the capital is nearing all-time highs.

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.

The nonworking period, which includes a two-day state holiday, 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.

Putin said that 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.

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.

But Moscow had avoided restrictions until now, 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 been filling quickly.