The Irish Times view on Russia’s Covid-19 surge: the cost of hesitancy

Low vaccine take-up is contributing to a deadly third wave

A security officer checks the QR-code of a food court visitor in Moscowon Monday. In order to contain the spread of Covid-19 infections, Moscow’s authorities imposed a ban on serving people without QR-codes confirming protection against Covid-19, including people who have recovered from Covid-19 within the previous six months or have negative PCR test results. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/ EPA

Months after officials said the country was emerging from the worst of its Covid-19 epidemic, Russia is struggling to deal with record numbers of cases and a rapid rise in hospital admissions and deaths. National authorities reported 669 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, the highest since the pandemic began. They also confirmed 21,042 new cases in the previous 24 hours, more than a quarter of them in Moscow, where cases have tripled in as many weeks.

As in many other countries, the spike has been attributed to the rapid spread of the Delta variant, which now accounts for 89.3 per cent of all cases in the capital, according to mayor Sergei Sobyanin. He has suggested officials overestimated how long natural immunity from previous infection would provide protection.

More obvious explanations are patchy restrictions and a very low take-up of vaccinations. The Kremlin has resisted imposing nationwide measures, leaving it to regional officials to take those unpopular decisions. Restaurants and cafes in Moscow 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.

In Russia as elsewhere, the only route to safety is vaccination, yet even though Russia has ample supplies of four home-grown jabs, the public has been slow to avail of them and polls show most Russians do not want to get inoculated. Only around 10 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. In an apparent move to encourage people to get the jab, President Vladimir Putin confirmed on Wednesday that he had received the Sputnik V vaccine. He opposes mandatory vaccination, though restrictions on the unvaccinated in Moscow and elsewhere are designed to incentivise take-up.


Russia has suffered terribly from Covid-19. The official death toll stands at 126,000, though excess mortality figures suggest the real number is much higher. Without a rapid rise in vaccination acceptance, it faces a long, traumatic summer.