Moscow, the capital of Europe’s worst COVID-19-hit nation, is to shut non-essential services between Thursday next week and Nov. 7, as deaths soar and vaccination rates stall in the country, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Thursday.
Sobyanin announced the 11-day closure a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a nationwide paid week off at the end of this month to curb fast spreading infections.
Russia reported 1,036 COVID-19 deaths in a single day on Thursday, but officials have warned that the worst is yet to come, with only 35 percent of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Putin would have no in-person meetings during the non-working period, the Kremlin said.
Authorities have previously gone to great lengths to protect the 69-year-old, who the Kremlin says is fully vaccinated.
In the capital, the epicenter of Russia’s outbreak, Sobyanin said that all non-essential retail, sporting and entertainment venues must temporarily close, but shops selling food, medicine and other essentials would remain open.
Restaurants and cafes would be able to sell take-away food, he said in a statement.
Mass events would be banned, and schools would be closed, with the days off coinciding with national school holidays.
Theaters and museums can stay open, but entry would be allowed only with QR codes.
Separately, the Russian Ministry of Education recommended that schools nationwide shutter for a week.
Sobyanin said the measures were necessary because the “situation in Moscow is continuing to develop according to the worst-case scenario.”
When restrictions end on Nov. 8, Moscow would also halt free public transport passes for unvaccinated passengers older than 60 or with chronic disease.
Sobyanin said the move was aimed at “protecting the lives and health of the most vulnerable Muscovites.”
Officials this week said that the virus is spreading faster than ever, with Russia registering 36,339 new cases on Thursday.
Moscow Deputy Mayor Anastasia Rakova said hospitalizations had risen threefold within a month, linking it to the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2.
She said that taking people off work was “one of the most effective epidemiological measures for large cities.”
Outside Moscow, Russia’s regions were also overwhelmed.
Authorities in Vladimir Oblast east of Moscow said that there were “practically no beds left” in COVID-19 ward intensive care units.
In the southwestern city of Voronezh, one of the worst-affected areas, authorities said that cemetery employees were “working to the limit” amid a steep rise in deaths.
Meanwhile, a Moscow official said that the capital’s cemeteries would continue working “as usual,” despite the non-working week.
Putin on Wednesday linked Russia’s high death rates to what he called an “unfortunately” low vaccination rate, and urged Russians to show “responsibility” and get the jab.
On a visit to the Kaliningrad on Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin urged residents to respond to the president’s call.
“You heard what the president said about this. It is very important,” the RIA Novosti news agency cited Mishustin as saying.
Despite multiple pleas from Putin and the domestically developed Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine being widely available since December last year, many Russians are reluctant to get vaccinated.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday said that he had not been inoculated, pointing to “a high level of antibodies.”
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