Russia: Omicron cases triple in ten days while authorities ponder how to stem it

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Daily new COVID-19 infections in Russia reached an all-time high as authorities blamed the highly contagious Omicron variant, which they expect to soon dominate the country’s outbreak.

Deputy prime minister Tatyana Golikova noted the “intensive spread of the Omicron variant” on Friday and said the authorities expect it to become the dominant strain driving the outbreak.

The state coronavirus task force reported 49,513 new infections on the same day — the highest yet in the pandemic.

Record numbers of 15,987 new cases and 5,922 cases were reported respectively in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.

In light of the surge, health officials in St. Petersburg limited elective outpatient care.

Golikova urged Russians who received their vaccinations or recovered from the virus more than six months ago to “head to a vaccination point again” to protect themselves with a booster.

Also on Friday, prime minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered cabinet members to hold meetings online and have their staff work remotely “where possible.”

Just about half of Russia’s 146 million people have been fully vaccinated despite the fact that the country was among the first in the world to approve and roll out a COVID-19 vaccine.

In Russia, everyone who received their primary vaccination more than six months ago has been eligible for a booster shot since July.

Gogov.ru, an independent website that tracks vaccinations, estimates that 8.8 million people have received a booster shot since, out of approximately 21.8 million who qualify.

Daily new infections in Russia have been steadily climbing since 10 January, when just over 15,000 new cases were registered — a number that tripled on Friday, surpassing 49,000 in less than two weeks. Friday’s daily tally was higher by more than 10,000 compared to the previous day.

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Russia’s state coronavirus task force has registered 324,752 deaths since the start of the pandemic — Europe’s worst death toll by far.

Russia’s state statistics agency, which uses broader counting criteria, puts the pandemic death toll even higher, saying the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.

Russia’s authorities admit that the current surge could end up as the country’s biggest yet but so far have not announced any major restrictions to stem it.

A nationwide lockdown was not being discussed, officials said, and last week the government decided to indefinitely postpone introducing restrictions for unvaccinated people, which would have been extremely unpopular among vaccine-hesitant Russians.

Earlier this week, Golikova also announced a decision to cut the required isolation period for people infected with COVID-19 from 14 to seven days, although it still remained unclear when that will take effect.

The authorities say the soaring infections so far have not led to a spike in hospitalisations.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the current surge is putting more strain on outpatient facilities than on hospitals in the city of nearly 13 million. City officials have increased the number of physicians on duty in outpatient clinics.

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