Russia's daily COVID-19 infections near 200,000 for 1st time

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Russian authorities on Thursday reported nearly 200,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases, in another record fueled by the rapid spread of the omicron variant amid a low vaccination rate and the absence of major restrictions for adults.

The state coronavirus tallied 197,076 new infections over the past 24 hours, some 14,000 more than the day before and twice as many as two weeks ago. The task force also reported 701 deaths. While infections have soared, daily fatalities in recent weeks have remained steady between roughly 600 and 700.

The highly contagious omicron variant accounts for 60% of current infections, according to Anna Popova, head of Russia's public health agency Rospotrebnadzor.

Despite the surge, Russian officials have resisted imposing any major restrictions. Moreover, the government recently lifted the seven-day self-isolation restrictions for those who come into contact with COVID-19 patients. Mandatory isolation for those who test positive for the virus has also been cut from 14 to seven days, and the requirement to have a negative test to end isolation has been scrapped.

Russia has had only one lockdown, for six weeks in 2020, and in October 2021 many people were ordered to stay off work for about a week. But beside that, life in most of the country remained largely normal.

In recent weeks, a growing number of Russian regions have started introducing restrictions for those under 18, as officials noted that the current surge is affecting children much more than the previous ones. In many areas, schools have either switched to remote learning or extended holidays for students. In St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, minors have been temporarily barred from most public places.

Russia started vaccinating children aged 12-17 only last month with the domestically developed Sputnik M jab. According to and social media users, only small amounts of the vaccine for teenagers have been made available.

Only about half of Russia's 146 million people have been vaccinated so far, even though the country was among the first in the world to roll out COVID-19 shots.

Russian authorities have reported a total of over 13.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the pandemic and 338,091 deaths—by far the highest death toll in Europe.

Russia's state statistics agency Rosstat, which uses broader counting criteria than the task force, puts the toll much higher, saying the number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and December 2021 was at about 681,100.

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