Moscow and at least three Russian regions have made coronavirus vaccinations compulsory for some residents, as officials in much of the country reluctantly retighten restrictions to quell a fresh surge in Covid-19 cases.
Just three weeks after Russian president Vladimir Putin described the introduction of mandatory inoculations as "impractical and impossible", the city of Moscow, the surrounding region of the same name, the Siberian province of Kemerovo and the Pacific island region of Sakhalin have ordered millions of people whose jobs involve direct contact with the public to get vaccinated.
Moscow announced that 60 per cent of staff in a wide range of workplaces – from shops, cafes and schools to hospitals, hairdressers and theatres – must receive at least one vaccine shot by July 15th and be fully inoculated by August 15th.
The other areas that are introducing mandatory inoculations unveiled similar targets, and employers who miss them could face fines or temporary closure.
Universities in the Russian capital and Moscow region have also proposed to allow only vaccinated students to attend lectures in person from September, with others forced to learn online.
Many Russian cities and regions are now limiting the opening hours of bars, restaurants and other venues, including Euro 2020 host city Saint Petersburg, which from Thursday banned the sale of food at fan zones set up for the tournament.
Russia is now reporting about 14,000 new coronavirus cases each day, a level not seen since February, and officials in Moscow – which recorded 6,195 new infections on Thursday – have said hospital admissions of Covid-19 sufferers in the capital have increased by more than 70 per cent in the past week.
"We are simply obliged to do everything we can to carry out mass vaccinations and stop this terrible disease as soon as possible," said Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin.
“I ask you to understand correctly and support this extremely hard, complicated, but essential and responsible decision,” added the mayor, who has introduced a prize draw for newly vaccinated people in which five cars can be won each week.
Russia’s drive to promote its Sputnik V vaccine worldwide has not generated much enthusiasm for the jab at home, and only about 12 per cent of Russia’s 144 million people have received at least one dose.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged Russia's poor vaccination rate on Thursday and said he supported the decision of some regions to impose mandatory vaccination for certain residents, while insisting that this would not be national policy for the entire population.
Russian scientists say they are analysing the possible emergence of a distinctive “Moscow strain” of coronavirus amid the appearance of thousands of mutations of the virus in the country, most of which are not more dangerous than current prevailing variants.