Russia resists lockdown despite ‘alarming’ spread of Covid-19

Of 235,000 hospital beds reserved for virus patients 85% now occupied, say officials

The Kremlin has described the spread of coronavirus in Russia as "alarming".

The bulletin comes as the country reported a record rise in infections while continuing to reject lockdown measures that would damage the economy.

Officials reported 20,582 new coronavirus cases and 378 deaths on Friday and said hospitals are coming under increasing strain countrywide with the fourth highest total number of cases – more than 1.73 million.

"You see that additional measures are being taken. Not measures linked to a lockdown but control-type measures, and every region is taking appropriate decisions," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. "But the tendency, as we've already said more than once, is alarming; the pandemic is developing."


Government officials said this week that about 85 per cent of 235,000 hospital beds reserved for Covid-19 patients nationwide are occupied and clinics in some regions complained of shortages of vital supplies, including oxygen.

Much of the focus of concern has shifted from Moscow, the epicentre of Russia's outbreak, to the poorer provinces. But on Thursday the capital's mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, acknowledged that the situation in the city is worsening again.

"Today, for the first time since mid-May, we exceeded the mark of 6,000 new cases of coronavirus detected," said Moscow's deputy mayor Anastasia Rakova on Friday. "Of course, this trend is causing us alarm . . . unfortunately, we can't say the situation is stable at the moment,"

She said the city’s hospitals are admitting 1,300 to 1,400 Covid-19 patients each day. And their 15,000 designated coronavirus beds are about 70 per cent occupied, noting that additional beds could be made available in temporary facilities.

The Russian authorities have ordered people nationwide to wear face masks on public transport and in other busy places, but individual regions are allowed to decide which other restrictions to implement.

Moscow, a city of 13 million people, has introduced an electronic registration scheme to keep nightlife open, urged people to work from home and reduced non-essential journeys, and switched secondary school children to online classes.

Clinic trials

Russia has high hopes for its Sputnik V vaccine which it licensed for domestic use in August even though clinic trials have yet to be completed. But the makers of Sputnik V are reportedly struggling to produce it in large quantities, making Kremlin-backed hopes for mass inoculation in the coming months unrealistic.

At the same time a survey suggested this week that 59 per cent of Russians are unwilling to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Hungary has said it plans to import a Russian vaccine for testing in the coming months and may eventually look to produce it. The country reported a record daily rise of 4,709 new Covid-19 infections on Friday and said hospitals may have to postpone some operations to ensure beds remain available.

Poland confirmed a record 445 coronavirus deaths and 27,086 new cases as the first patient was admitted to a new field hospital at the national stadium in Warsaw.

Romania, meanwhile, announced a curfew and the closure of schools for a month as 9,714 people were diagnosed with Covid-19, a new national one-day high.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe