MOSCOW — With Russia enduring its worst wave of the coronavirus pandemic, setting grim records in daily cases and deaths, Moscow announced a lockdown Thursday — a move the Kremlin had previously said it would avoid at all costs.
Russia — Moscow, in particular — has in the past year regularly introduced measures when new cases have spiked, including a digital pass system for the vaccinated and a curfew for bars and restaurants. But those provisions were often quickly abandoned, in some cases after just a couple of weeks. Mask-wearing compliance throughout the country remains low.
More importantly, Russia’s vaccination campaign has stalled at just 33 percent, perhaps because authorities have often touted their success in dealing with the pandemic. Analysts have said that has created mixed messages for Russians as to why they even need to get the shots.
A new lockdown in Moscow, the city’s first in more than a year, is the toughest step officials have taken since exiting the last one in June 2020. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier this month that “the introduction of lockdowns is an absolutely undesirable scenario” and encouraged regional authorities to consider other methods of stanching the virus’s spread.
A day after President Vladimir Putin approved a “non-working week” from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7 to keep most office employees at home, the country’s capital went a step further.
Without officially labeling the new restrictions a lockdown, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced that from Oct. 28 to Nov. 7, everything — schools, gyms, restaurants and other nonessential businesses — will be closed, with the exception of grocery stores, pharmacies and medical centers. Theaters and museums can continue operating at 50 percent occupancy and with the use of digital codes.
Sobyanin said on his blog that Moscow’s coronavirus situation is “developing according to the worst-case scenario.”
“Let’s take a little rest and help save the lives and health of many people. And then the city can return to normal life,” he said.
No major city in Russia has been in a strict lockdown in more than a year. But after recording another record of 1,036 fatalities from the virus in the past day, Russia’s official death toll of more than 225,000 is by far the highest in Europe. It is also believed to be an undercount.
In Russia, experts are challenging official pandemic figures as too low. They refuse to be silenced.
Independent demographer Alexey Raksha calculated that excess mortality — seen by analysts as the most reliable indicator of coronavirus deaths — has reached around 750,000, he said in a Facebook post. Raksha’s calculation used figures maintained by Rosstat, Russia’s statistical agency, where Raksha used to work.
In nationally televised comments Wednesday, an exasperated Putin encouraged Russians to get vaccinated. Russia has several domestically produced vaccines, but none have yet been approved by the World Health Organization.
Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Thursday that “certain technological differences regarding the fullness of the documents and the information provided for our vaccine to be registered” were the reason Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has yet to be approved by the European Union’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency. The EMA is unlikely to approve Sputnik until at least the first quarter of 2022, according to Reuters.
Putin, 69, got vaccinated in March, but there was no video or photo of him getting the shot. He didn’t reveal until June that he had received Sputnik V.
“I ask people close to me, my classmates: ‘Have you been vaccinated?’ ” Putin said Wednesday. “The question to me is: ‘And have you?’ ‘Not yet.’ ‘I will wait for you to be vaccinated.’ Okay, now I am vaccinated. I ask, ‘Have you been vaccinated?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know, I’ll wait.’ It’s strange, people with a good education, with academic degrees. I just don’t get what's going on.”
Coronavirus: What you need to know
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