Moscow authorities have announced a weeklong closure of most non-essential services from 28 October, as Russia registered its highest daily number of coronavirus deaths and infections since the start of the pandemic.
“The situation in Moscow continues to develop in the worst scenario … In the coming days, we will reach a historic peak in coronavirus battle,” the Moscow mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said in a statement on Thursday explaining his decision to introduce the measure.
Under the new measures, all non-essential shops, schools and gyms will be shut. Restaurants and cafes will be able to operate as takeaways, while theatres and museums will require proof of Covid-19 vaccination or recovery.
A day earlier, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, announced a weeklong nationwide paid holiday starting from 30 October to stop the spread of infections.
Russia has repeatedly broken all-time-high numbers of Covid deaths and infections over the last three weeks, with only a third of the country fully vaccinated.
It is currently reporting more than 1,000 daily deaths, the second-highest in the world after the US. Calculations based on publicly available mortality data suggest the excess death toll between the start of the pandemic and August this year is nearly 660,000.
On Thursday a senior government scientist warned Russia’s infections could further spiral after several cases of the new AY.4.2 Delta variant of coronavirus were detected in the country. Officials in the UK said they were closely monitoring the variant as scientists believe it could be more transmissible.
The measures introduced by Sobyanin amount to Moscow’s strictest coronavirus rules since spring last year. The Kremlin has repeatedly avoided pushing through widely unpopular restrictions, despite the country registering high Covid infections for months.
A poll published on Wednesday said a majority of Russian business owners were against new restrictions, citing economic concerns.
Despite widely available vaccines, Russians remain distrustful of domestically made jabs and surveys showed a majority of those who have not yet received a vaccine were not planning to do so. To encourage vaccine uptake, Moscow authorities this week banned unvaccinated elderly people from leaving home until February, while most Russian regions have introduced some form of compulsory vaccination.
Putin this week stressed the importance of vaccination. “It’s strange that well-educated people, people with advanced degrees, don’t want to get vaccinated. We have a safe and effective vaccine,” he said. “I call upon you to go out and get vaccinated. It’s a question of your life and the lives of the people close to you.”
Critics have blamed the failing vaccination campaign on the Kremlin’s mixed messaging and low trust in the authorities. A senior official last week said the government “lost the information campaign on the fight against coronavirus”. Vaccine hesitancy has also been prevalent in neighbouring countries, with Ukraine, Belarus and other eastern European nations experiencing new surges in infections.