Russians to stay off work for a week as virus deaths rise

Oct 20, 2021, 2:29 AM | Updated: 11:39 pm
Medics wearing special suits to protect against coronavirus prepare to move a patient with coronavi...

Medics wearing special suits to protect against coronavirus prepare to move 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)

(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered most Russians to stay off work for a week starting later this month amid rising COVID-19 infections and deaths, and he strongly urged reluctant citizens to get vaccinated.

The government coronavirus task force reported 1,028 deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. That brought Russia’s death toll to 226,353, by far the highest in Europe.

Putin said he supports the Cabinet’s proposal to introduce a nonworking 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.

“Our task today is to protect life and health of our citizens and minimize the consequences of the dangerous infection,” Putin said in a video call with top officials. “To achieve that, it’s necessary to first of all slow the pace of contagion and mobilize additional reserves of the health care system, which is currently working under a high strain.”

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

The nonworking period should help limit the spread by keeping people out of offices and off crowded public transportation, but Moscow and many other cities haven’t curbed access to restaurants, cafes, bars, theaters and gyms.

When the Cabinet proposed the measure Tuesday, many Russians rushed to book flights to Black Sea resorts to take advantage of the break.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who leads the task force, emphasized that the nonworking week should imply limiting access to restaurants, theaters and other entertainment venues, adding that regional authorities will be expected to impose restrictions.

She particularly urged Russians to refrain from traveling to other regions during the period and emphasized the need for relatives of those infected to stay home.

It wasn’t immediately clear what private businesses would be required to stop working in line with Putin’s decree, in addition to state workers and employees of state-owned companies. During a similar measure early in the pandemic, many private and state-owned companies in “vital” economic sectors were allowed to keep operating.

The Cabinet has drafted measures on compensation to businesses to help absorb the economic blow, including one-time payments equivalent to a minimum monthly pay per worker and low-interest credits.

In urging Russians to get the shots, Putin said “it’s a matter of your life and security and the health of your dear ones.”

“There are only two ways to get over this period — to get sick or to receive a vaccine,” he said. “It’s better to get the vaccine. Why wait for the illness and its grave consequences? Please be responsible and take the necessary measures to protect yourself, your health and your close ones.”

The Russian leader, who got the domestically developed Sputnik V vaccine earlier this year, said he’s puzzled by the vaccine hesitancy, even among his close friends, who told him they would get the shot after he does and then kept delaying it.

“I can’t understand what’s going on,” Putin said. “We have a reliable and efficient vaccine. The vaccine really reduces the risks of illness, grave complications and death.”

He approved a Cabinet proposal giving two days of paid leave to those getting the shot to help encourage vaccination.

Even though Russia in August 2020 became the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine and has plentiful supplies, there has been reluctance among its citizens to get the shots, a skepticism blamed on conflicting signals from authorities.

While extolling Sputnik V and three other domestic vaccines, state-controlled media often criticized Western-made shots, a message that many saw as feeding doubts about vaccines in general.

Golikova emphasized that most of those who have died recently were unvaccinated. She said 87% of hospital beds allocated for COVID-19 patients are filled, with the number reaching 95% in some provinces.

Rising infections forced some regional authorities to suspend certain medical services as health care facilities were focusing on coronavirus patients. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted the situation is “very sad,” noting that the level of vaccination in those regions was particularly low.

Putin warned regional leaders against trying to embellish statistics, saying a “high number of new infections doesn’t mean poor work” by the authorities. “It shows the efficiency of regional teams, not the other way round,” he said.

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.

Medical workers expressed bewilderment over the vaccine skepticism and lax attitude to precautions. “I think about sleepless nights when we get a huge number of patients who didn’t even bother to use banal protective means,” said Dr. Natavan Ibragimova of Moscow’s Hospital No. 52, where an ICU was filled to capacity.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said unvaccinated people over 60 will be required to stay home. He also told businesses to keep at least a third of their employees working remotely for three months starting Oct. 25.

Dr. Catherine Smallwood, the COVID-19 incident manager at the World Health Organization’s European branch, said vaccination levels at or below 30% in Russia and eastern European countries like Bulgaria and Romania were “particularly concerning.”

“It’s very clear that in countries that have lower vaccine uptake, that’s where we’re seeing the serious pandemic effects at the moment in terms of deaths and people ending up in hospital,” she said.

The government task force has registered more than 8 million total infections and its official COVID-19 death toll ranks Russia as having the fifth-most pandemic deaths in the world, behind the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.

However, state statistics agency Rosstat, which also counts deaths in which the virus wasn’t considered the main cause, has reported a much higher death toll — about 418,000 as of August.

___

Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Kostya Manenkov in Moscow contributed.

___

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

People line up to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo International Airport in Johann...
Associated Press

New COVID variant threat causes worldwide scramble

BRUSSELS (AP) — Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is racing to contain a new coronavirus variant potentially more dangerous than the one that has fueled relentless waves of infection on nearly every continent. A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Japan PM vows to step up defense amid China, NK threats

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, at his first troop review Saturday, renewed his pledge to consider “all options,” including acquiring enemy base strike capability, and vowed to create a stronger Self-Defense Force to protect the country amid growing threats from China and North Korea. Kishida said the security situation around Japan is […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

At least 1 injured in shooting at mall in Tacoma, Washington

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Authorities said at least one person was injured when shots were fired Friday evening near a food court at a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. The Pierce County Sheriff’s office said the shooting at the Tacoma Mall was reported at 7:08 p.m. The Tacoma Police said the victim was transported to […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Hawaii city worker stuck in sewage treatment plant tank dies

HONOLULU (AP) — A Honolulu city worker died Friday after being trapped in a tank at a sewage treatment plant, officials said. Firefighters received a 911 call at 10 a.m. requesting “a confined space” rescue at the Honouliuli Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Because of federal rules, a hazardous materials unit was first […]
22 hours ago
Businessman Ian Maxwell, brother of Ghislaine Maxwell listens, during an interview at his office in...
Associated Press

Maxwell’s brother says US prosecutors seeking to ‘break’ her

The brother of a British socialite charged with helping Jeffrey Epstein exploit underage girls says her prosecution is “the most over-hyped trial of the century,” designed to break a woman targeted by authorities desperate to blame someone for the late financier’s crimes. Ghislaine Maxwell continues to have the backing of her family, and a family […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim gestures during a gathering at Tufts University in Me...
Associated Press

Barbra Streisand, Lea Salonga, more mourn Stephen Sondheim

Tributes quickly flooded social media following the death of Stephen Sondheim as performers and writers alike saluted a giant of the theater: “Rest In Peace, Stephen Sondheim, and thank you for your vast contributions to musical theater. We shall be singing your songs forever. Oh, my heart hurts…” — singer and actor Lea Salonga, via […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
DISC DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

What you need to know about spine health

With 540 million people suffering from lower back pain, it remains the leading cause of long-term disability. That’s why World Spine Day on Oct. 16 will raise awareness about spinal health with its theme, BACK2BACK. “BACK2BACK will focus on highlighting ways in which people can help their spines by staying mobile, avoiding physical inactivity, not overloading […]
...
PNC Bank

3 cool tips to turn everyday moments into learning experiences for your child

Early brain development has a crucial impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and life. Research has shown that 90% of a child’s brain is developed by age five.
...
PNC Bank

How one organization supports early childhood literacy for the most vulnerable

Nearly two out of every three children in low-income communities don’t own a single children’s book, a fact that ultimately could have profound impacts even before entering kindergarten, according to Arizona nonprofit Southwest Human Development.
Russians to stay off work for a week as virus deaths rise