OMSK, RUSSIA OCTOBER 9, 2021: Cemetery workers in protective gear bury people who died of causes related to COVID-19 at Novo-Yuzhnoye Cemetery. Yevgeny Sofiychuk/TASS (Photo by Yevgeny Sofiychuk\TASS via Getty Images)
Yevgeny Sofiychuk | TASS | Getty Images
Russia has hit a grim new record in its Covid-19 pandemic, with the number of daily deaths caused by the virus hitting a new high.
Russia reported 28,190 new coronavirus cases and 973 deaths from Covid on Tuesday, a new record number of daily fatalities, according to data from the government’s coronavirus taskforce. In total, Russia has recorded over 7.8 million cases of the virus and over 218,000 deaths.
Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko delivered sharp warnings on the public health crisis in Russia on Tuesday, telling a cabinet meeting that that incidence of Covid in Russia had increased 16% over the past week and in some regions, the growth rate was more than 30%.
Russia has about 255,000 beds for Covid patients, of which about 235,000 are occupied, Murashko said, with 11% of Russia’s hospitalized Covid patients in a serious or critical condition “and practically all of them are patients who have not been vaccinated,” Murashko said, according to the TASS news agency.
Russia is desperate to increase vaccination rates in the country but many members of the public have been reluctant to take up the Covid shot, primarily the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, often despite the offer of incentives including money, shopping coupons and gift cards, and easy access to facilities such as walk-in immunization centers.
So far, however, the Kremlin has resisted making Covid vaccination mandatory for the wider public although there is a wide swathe of workers in several regions, and in several sectors such as retail, health care and education, that must have a Covid vaccine now or risk losing their jobs.
Nonetheless, vaccination figures remain low with around 31% of Russia’s 144 million population fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.
The frustration at the sluggish acceptance of Covid vaccines has been palpable in Russia, with President Vladimir Putin making numerous attempts to extol the benefits of the vaccine to the reticent public.
On Tuesday, that effort continued with Putin reportedly telling a meeting of State Duma (parliament) deputies that they needed to work harder to increase Russia’s vaccination rates.
“We need to persistently and patiently work with people, explain to them all the advantages associated with the prevention of this dangerous disease,” he said, TASS reported.
Still, there are no signs that Russia is willing to implement a nationwide lockdown with the power to lock down granted to Russian regions where restrictions vary widely.
Russia was one of the first countries in the world to approve a Covid vaccine, in August 2020, and to roll out the shots. So were it not for public reluctance, Russia could have vaccinated far more people to date.
Reluctance has been seen as resulting from concerns over Sputnik V’s safety and efficacy credentials, particularly as Russia authorized the shot before clinical trials had been completed in a move that raised suspicions in the international scientific community.
However, the Sputnik V vaccine was found to be 91.6% effective in preventing people from developing Covid, according to peer-reviewed results from its late-stage clinical trial that were published in The Lancet medical journal in February.
People walk through the Red Square in a sunny autumn day in Moscow on October 9, 2021.
DIMITAR DILKOFF | AFP | Getty Images
Despite this, a poll by Russia’s Levada polling center published in March found that 62% of people did not want to get the vaccine, with the highest level of reluctance found among 18-to-24-year-olds.
The latest data from Levada published in early September, shows that skepticism towards the vaccine remains high but has declined over the summer, with 52% of Russians polled not wanting to get vaccinated with a Russian vaccine. In the poll of 1,619 people conducted in August, 14% said they were ready to be vaccinated with around a third saying they were already vaccinated.
More than half of the Russians polled (55%) said they were not afraid of contracting coronavirus too, indicators that have hardly changed since the beginning of 2021 despite more recent warnings about the spread of the more virulent delta variant.
Murashko warned on Tuesday that youth was no longer a guard against Covid, telling the cabinet meeting that “we have seen patients of up to 30 years old who are in intensive care with severe complications.”
“Young age, therefore, today is not insurance against illness and its complications,” he said, according to the TASS news agency.
There’s no love lost between Russia and its neighbor Ukraine, given the former’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine, but both countries have in common their difficulties overcoming the Covid crisis.
Like Russia, Ukraine registered a near-record number of deaths in the last 24 hours, reporting 471 coronavirus-related deaths and very near to the record daily toll of 481, the health ministry reported Wednesday.
— CNBC’s Hadley Gamble moderates a panel with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the CEOs of BP, TotalEnergies, ExxonMobil and Daimler at Russian Energy Week. Watch live at 1 p.m. Moscow time/11 a.m. London time on Wednesday, Oct. 13.