The daily number of COVID-19 deaths in Russia hit another high Tuesday amid a surge in infections that forced the Kremlin to order most Russians to stay off work starting this week.
Sluggish vaccination rates have allowed the coronavirus to spread quickly across Eastern Europe. Ukraine and Bulgaria also reported record daily death tolls on Tuesday.
Russia’s national coronavirus task force reported 1,106 deaths in 24 hours, the most since the start of the pandemic. The number brought the country’s pandemic death toll to 232,775, Europe’s biggest by far.
Russia registered 36,446 new daily coronavirus cases, slightly fewer compared with the past few days.
In a move intended to stem the spread of the virus, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a nonworking period between Oct. 30 and Nov. 7, when the country will observe an extended holiday.
During that time, most state organizations and private businesses are to suspend operations, and most stores will close along with kindergartens, schools, gyms and most entertainment venues. Restaurants and cafes will only be open for takeout or delivery orders. Food stores, pharmacies and businesses operating key infrastructure can stay open.
Access to museums, theaters, concert halls and other venues will be limited to people holding digital codes on their smartphones to prove they have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, a practice that will remain in place after Nov. 7.
Putin has told local officials to order unvaccinated people older than 60 to stay home and to close nightclubs and other entertainment venues.
Authorities also have moved to strengthen the enforcement of mask mandates on public transportation and in indoor venues, which have been loosely observed.
The Russian leader encouraged the worst-affected regions to start the off-work time earlier and possibly extend it beyond Nov. 7. Six of Russia’s 85 regions began the idle period on Monday, and more joined them Tuesday. Moscow is set to suspend work for most people Thursday.
Russian authorities expect the time off to help limit the spread of contagion by keeping people out of offices and off public transportation.
However, the sales of airline tickets and hotel bookings at Russian Black Sea resorts surged at the news of the extended holiday, forcing authorities in the south to shut entertainment venues and limit access to restaurants and bars to customers with the digital health codes. Tour companies also reported a surge in demand for package vacations for Egyptian resorts.
The government has blamed the quick spread of the virus and soaring deaths on low vaccination rates. About 49 million Russians — about a third of the country’s nearly 146 million people — are fully vaccinated.
“It’s important to speed up the pace of vaccination, otherwise we won’t be able to control the spread of infection,” Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said at a Cabinet meeting.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashhko reported that nearly 90% of hospital beds are filled with over 268,000 COVID-19 patients, adding that authorities need to further expand the hospital capacity. “It’s a colossal load on the health care system,” he said.
Russia was the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine, launching Sputnik V in August 2020. It has abundant supplies of the vaccine, but citizens have been slow to get shots, a trend blamed in part on conflicting signals from authorities.
In neighboring Ukraine, vaccine uptake has been even slower. About 16% of the country’s 41 million people has been fully vaccinated. Confirmed cases and deaths have increased over the past week, and the Ukrainian Health Ministry on Tuesday reported a record 734 deaths in 24 hours,
Bulgaria, the European Union’s least-vaccinated nation with about 25% of the adult population fully inoculated, reported 5,863 new confirmed cases and 243 deaths Tuesday, both national daily records. Medical personnel are concerned the latest wave may overwhelm the country’s ailing health care system.