Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday backed the Cabinet's proposal to declare a non-working week and keep Russian workers away from their offices as coronavirus deaths surged to another daily record. The government task force on Wednesday reported 1,028 coronavirus deaths over the past 24 hours, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. That brought Russia's total death toll to 226,353 which is by far the highest in Europe.
Putin said Wednesday he supports the Cabinet's proposal to introduce a nonworking period starting Oct 30 and extending through the following week, when four of seven days already are state holidays. He added in some regions where the situation is the most threatening, the non-working period could start as early as Saturday.
In some regions, mounting infections forced authorities to suspend medical assistance to the population as health care facilities were forced to focus on treating coronavirus patients.
Russia's daily coronavirus mortality numbers have been surging for weeks and topped 1,000 for the first time over the weekend amid sluggish vaccination rates, lax public attitudes toward taking precautions and the government's reluctance to toughen restrictions.
About 45 million Russians, or 32% of the country's nearly 146 million people, are fully vaccinated.
Even though Russia in August 2020 became the first country of the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine and vaccines are plentiful, Russians have shown hesitancy about getting the shots, a skepticism blamed on conflicting signals sent by authorities.
While extolling Sputnik V and three other domestic vaccines, state-controlled media were often critical of Western-made shots, a controversial message that many saw as feeding public doubts about vaccines in general.
Until now, the Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown like the one early on in the pandemic that dealt a heavy blow to the economy and sapped Putin's popularity, empowering regional authorities across the country's 11 time zones to decide on local restrictions, depending on their situation.
Many of Russia's 85 regions already have restricted attendance at large public events and limited access to theatres, restaurants and other venues. Some have made vaccinations compulsory for certain public servants and people over 60.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted that the situation is "very sad," noting that the level of vaccination in those regions was particularly low.
In Moscow, however, life has continued as usual, with restaurants and movie theaters brimming with people, crowds swarming nightclubs and karaoke bars and commuters widely ignoring mask mandates on public transportation even as ICUs have filled in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said unvaccinated people over 60 will be required to stay home. He also told businesses to keep at least a third of their employees working remotely for three months starting Oct 25.
The government task force has registered a total of more than 8 million infections and its official COVID-19 toll ranks Russia as having the fifth-most pandemic deaths in the world behind the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.
However, state statistics agency Rosstat, which also counts deaths in which the virus wasn't considered the main cause, has reported a much higher pandemic death toll - about 418,000 people with COVID-19 as of August. Based on that number, Russia would be the fourth hardest-hit nation, ahead of Mexico.