Russia on guard for third wave of pandemic as vaccine take-up lags

Surge in new Covid-19 cases in Moscow causes alarm ahead of 10-day holiday

A healthcare worker checks a woman before she gets a dose of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine in Moscow on April 26th. Photograph: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP

A healthcare worker checks a woman before she gets a dose of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine in Moscow on April 26th. Photograph: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP

 

Russians are being urged to wear face masks, observe social distancing and cancel any planned mass gatherings during a forthcoming 10-day national holiday, amid fears of a possible third wave of the pandemic and slow vaccine take-up.

Officials reported 9,284 new cases of Covid-19 across Russia on Thursday, the country’s biggest daily rise in almost a fortnight; Moscow accounted for 3,215 of those cases, its sharpest one-day climb since January 21st and a 75 per cent increase on Wednesday’s figure.

“It is necessary for people to wear masks, for there to be social distancing, for us to spend the holidays that are ahead of us in the family circle, apart, and preferably in the fresh air . . . We need to cancel all planned mass events,” said Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s public health watchdog.

Russian president Vladimir Putin decreed last week that two traditional long weekends in early May would be linked with several non-working days to create a 10-day break, which Ms Popova said would reduce the risk of people spreading coronavirus as they moved between flats, offices and countryside dachas on public transport.

‘More complicated’

“The coronavirus incidence rate went down by 13 per cent a week in March, but the figure has been below 1 per cent over the past three weeks,” she told Mr Putin. “There has been practically no change, and we have come to a standstill in some regions. The new trend points to the situation possibly becoming more complicated.”

Russia’s coronavirus taskforce puts the country’s total number of cases at almost 4.8 million, and says 109,731 of them have proven fatal. In a separate count, however, Russia’s federal statistics agency recorded more than 225,000 Covid-19-related deaths between April 2020 and February, one of the world’s highest tolls.

Unofficial government statistics show that a third wave of the pandemic has already begun in Russia, Bloomberg news agency reported this week citing two unnamed officials.

“No. You see the figures, they are all available,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in response. “Any other claims are absurd.”

Sputnik V

Russia was the first state to register a coronavirus vaccine when it approved Sputnik V last August, before clinical trials had even begun, and three Russian-produced vaccines are now available – but domestic demand remains sluggish.

Our World in Data says that Russia has administered about 19 million vaccine shots, which is equivalent to 13 per cent of its population, compared to Ireland’s figure of 29.4 per cent and more than 70 per cent for the US and UK.

The developers of Sputnik V say it has been authorised for use in 60 countries around the world, and cite peer-reviewed data published in medical journal the Lancet as evidence of its safety and efficacy.

However, it is yet to be approved for use in the EU by the European Medicines Agency, and Hungary is the only member state that is using it.

The Czech drug regulator said on Thursday it had not received enough information from Russia to assess Sputnik V’s safety, echoing comments by its counterpart in Slovakia, which has yet to use 200,000 doses of the vaccine delivered in March.