By Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) -The Russian capital brought in its strictest COVID-19 related lockdown measures in more than a year on Thursday as nationwide one-day pandemic deaths and infections hit new highs amid slow vaccination take-up across the world’s biggest country.
Moscow’s partial lockdown, in which only essential shops like pharmacies and supermarkets are allowed to remain open and schools and state kindergartens are shut, comes ahead of a week-long nationwide workplace shutdown from Oct. 30.
Like Moscow, some regions decided to kick off their partial lockdowns on Thursday or even earlier in an effort to cut infection numbers ahead of the nationwide initiative.
Moscow’s residents are allowed to leave their homes unlike a sweeping lockdown in summer 2020, but the new measures point to rising concern among officials over record numbers of deaths that the Kremlin has blamed on vaccine hesitancy.
Officials on Thursday reported an all-time high of 1,159 COVID-19 nationwide deaths in the past 24 hours, while the number of daily infections broke through the 40,000 barrier for the first time.
At the State Duma lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker, proposed requiring all lawmakers to get vaccinated and suggested that stragglers should have to work remotely.
“Imagine the consequences for the country if parliament stops working,” Volodin told the lower house. “Every day we’re seeing how our … colleagues are ending up in hospital beds,” he said.
His proposal was met by angry shouts from the parliament’s chamber with someone calling out: “What kind of PR is this?”
Many Russians have said they are reluctant to get vaccinated and have spurned the four vaccines Russia has registered, including the flagship Sputnik V vaccine.
Some people say they are hesitant due to mistrust of the authorities, while others cite concerns about the safety of vaccines.
As of Oct. 22, official data showed that 49.1 million Russians were fully vaccinated. The total population, excluding annexed Crimea, is officially estimated at around 144 million.
AD CAMPAIGN RELAUNCH?
The daily Kommersant newspaper reported on Thursday that the Kremlin planned to revamp the troubled public information campaign about the importance of getting vaccinated.
The new campaign would pay closer attention to Russia’s more than 80 regions and strike a less aggressive and negative tone than previously, the report said.
The existing campaign has often highlighted the risk of death for Russians who decline to get vaccinated rather than linking vaccination to the freedom to be exempt from lockdown-style restrictions, it said.
However, the Kremlin denied it planned to relaunch the ad campaign, but said the strategy was constantly being adjusted and that the campaign would be continued.
Many Russians have decided that now is an ideal time to fly off for a foreign beach holiday instead of hunkering down at home.
There were mixed feelings about the lockdown on the streets of Moscow on Thursday. Some residents like Lyubov Machekhina said they thought it would obviously help slow infections.
But others like Mikhail, a Muscovite who did not give his surname, voiced doubts that there would be any real impact without a larger chunk of the population being vaccinated.
“In my opinion, it will change nothing. Perhaps, it will slow down (the spread of cases) a bit, but in fact, without herd immunity – it’s nonsense. I don’t believe it will work.”
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Lev Sergeev, Anton Zverev, Gleb Stolyarov and Andrey Ostroukh; editing by Andrew Osborn)
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