Moscow has started restricting access to restaurants and cafes and ordered many workers to stay at home, as Russia’s capital and its second city, Saint Petersburg, reported a record one-day rise in deaths from coronavirus.
"The situation with coronavirus in Moscow remains extremely difficult. Over the past week, we have set a new record for the number of hospitalisations, the number of people in intensive care, as well as the number of deaths from Covid-19," said Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin on Monday.
“I repeat once again that we are dealing with a new and more infectious strain, [which is] very lethal. I ask everyone to look after themselves and get vaccinated at the first opportunity,” he added, referring to the so-called Delta variant of coronavirus which is now prevalent in Moscow.
Russia recorded 21,650 new coronavirus cases on Monday, its biggest daily rise since January, and 611 deaths from the virus. More than one-third of those new cases were in Moscow, which reported 124 deaths, while Saint Petersburg confirmed 1,335 new infections and 110 fatalities from Covid-19.
Eateries in the capital are now allowed to serve only customers who can show a digital QR-code that indicates they have been vaccinated, have recovered from the virus, or have a negative PCR test result. Moscow city hall has also ordered employers to ensure that 30 per cent of all non-vaccinated staff now work from home.
European football championship
Saint Petersburg, meanwhile, plans to host a quarter-final of the European football championship on Friday without imposing tighter restrictions, despite its sharp rise in infections and a spike in cases among Finnish fans who recently visited the city.
Mr Sobyanin has announced that 60 per cent of staff in a vast range of public-facing roles in Moscow must receive at least one vaccine shot by July 15th and be fully inoculated by August 15th.
Many other Russian regions have followed Moscow in introducing such measures, after previously advocating a light-touch approach that combined few restrictions on public behaviour with relatively little state financial help for struggling small- and medium-sized businesses.
With parliamentary elections approaching in September, the Kremlin continues to insist that regional officials are responsible for imposing widely unpopular restrictions and that there are no plans for a national lockdown or mandatory vaccination programme for Russia’s 146-million population.
"At the moment there is no compulsory vaccination . . . Regions are introducing conditions [for compulsory vaccination] for work in some sectors. But this is not compulsory vaccination for all citizens," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Health minister Mikhail Murashko said 23 million people had been vaccinated in Russia – with apparent reference to those who had received at least one dose – and that demand for vaccination was now picking up sharply.
Polls show most Russians do not want to get inoculated, despite their country launching a global campaign to promote its Sputnik V vaccine.