MOSCOW — Russia’s daily coronavirus infections and deaths hovered near all-time highs Monday amid sluggish vaccination rates and the Kremlin’s reluctance to toughen restrictions.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 29,409 new confirmed cases — the highest number since the year’s start and just slightly lower than the pandemic record reached in December.
After registering the highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic at 968 over the weekend, it reported 957 new deaths on Monday.
Russia already has Europe’s highest death toll in the pandemic — more than 217,000, according to a government task force. The state statistics agency, which uses a different way of counting including when the coronavirus wasn’t considered the main cause of death, has reported about 418,000 deaths of people with COVID-19.
A sharp rise in infections and deaths began last month with the government attributing it to a slow vaccination rate. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said Friday that 47.8 million Russians, or almost 33% of the nearly 146 million population had received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine, and 42.4 million, or about 29%, were fully vaccinated.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov voiced concern about a surge in infections and deaths and noted that hospitals in some regions are close to their capacity.
“The vaccination level we have is too low, impermissibly low,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “That is why we have mortality numbers that are so high. We are using every opportunity to make a simple call on all citizens — go ahead and get the shot.”
But while deploring the laggard pace of vaccination, Peskov rejected the idea of imposing fines on those who fail to get the vaccine and emphasized that it’s up to regional authorities to decide whether to tighten coronavirus restrictions.
Some regions have limited attendance at large public events and restricted access to theaters, restaurants and other places to people who have been vaccinated, recently recovered from COVID-19 or tested negative in the previous 72 hours.
However, life remains largely normal in Moscow, St. Petersburg and many other major cities, with businesses operating as usual and mask mandates loosely enforced. On Monday, the authorities in Moscow announced the expansion of free coronavirius tests in shopping malls across the city, saying it should help stem contagion.
Overall, Russia’s coronavirus task force has registered over 7.8 million confirmed cases and 217,372 deaths. However, reports by Russia’s state statistical service Rosstat that tally coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively reveal significantly higher mortality numbers.
Rosstat on Friday revealed the latest coronavirus mortality data that showed more than 254,000 deaths of people with COVID-19 in the first eight months of this year compared to over 163,000 deaths of patients who had the coronavirus for the whole of 2020.
Unlike the coronavirus task force that only counts deaths of patients where the coronavirus was considered the main cause, Rosstat also tallies those who had COVID-19 but died of other causes, and those for whom the coronavirus was suspected but not confirmed.