Russia on Wednesday reported another record of daily coronavirus deaths amid a slow vaccination rate and authorities' reluctance to tighten restrictions.
The government coronavirus task force reported 984 coronavirus deaths over the past 24 hours, the pandemic's new high. The country has repeatedly marked record daily death tolls over the past few weeks as infections soared to near all-time highs, with 28,717 confirmed new cases reported Wednesday.
The Kremlin has attributed the mounting contagion and deaths to a laggard vaccination rate. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Tuesday that about 43 million Russians, or about 29% of the country's nearly 146 million people, were fully vaccinated.
President Vladimir Putin has emphasized the need to speed up the vaccination rate, but he also has cautioned against forcing people to get the shots by applying administrative pressure. Experts have attributed the slow pace of vaccination to widespread vaccine skepticism and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
The Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown like the one during the first months of the pandemic that badly crippled the economy and dented Putin's ratings, delegating the power to enforce coronavirus restrictions to regional authorities.
Some Russian regions have restricted attendance at large public events and limited access to theaters, restaurants and other places to people who have been vaccinated, recently recovered from COVID-19 or tested negative in the previous 72 hours.
But life remains largely normal in Moscow, St. Petersburg and many other Russian cities, with businesses operating as usual and mask mandates loosely enforced. In Moscow, the authorities expanded free coronavirus tests in shopping malls, hoping it would help stem contagion.
The soaring infections have increased the pressure on Russia's health care system, with hospitals filling up quickly. Speaking at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said 11% of Russia's 235,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients are in serious or critical condition.
Overall, Russia's coronavirus task force has registered more than 7.8 million confirmed cases and 219,329 deaths—the highest death toll in Europe. The state statistics agency Rosstat, which also counts deaths where the virus wasn't considered the main cause, has reported a much higher toll of pandemic deaths—about 418,000 deaths of people with COVID-19.
If that higher number is used, Russia would be the fourth hardest-hit nation in the world during the pandemic, after the United States, Brazil and India. Even the lower mortality figure only shifts Russia down to fifth place, after Mexico.
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