Putin orders nonwork week as COVID numbers rise in RussiaWednesday, October 20, 2021
MOSCOW, Russia (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered the country's workers to stay off work for a week starting later this month amid rising coronavirus infection and death numbers, and he strongly urged reluctant citizens to get vaccinated.
The government task force on Wednesday reported 1,028 coronavirus deaths over the past 24 hours, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. That brought Russia's total death toll to 226,353 which is by far the highest in Europe.
Putin said Wednesday he supports the Cabinet's proposal to introduce a nonworking period starting October 30 and extending through the following week, when four of seven days already are state holidays. He added in some regions where the situation is the most threatening, the nonworking period could start as early as Saturday and be extended after November 7.
"Our task today is to protect life and health of our citizens and minimise the consequences of the dangerous infection," Putin said in a video call with top officials. "To achieve that, it's necessary to first of all slow the pace of contagion and mobilise additional reserves of the health care system, which is currently working under a high strain."
Russia's daily coronavirus mortality numbers have been surging for weeks and topped 1,000 for the first time over the weekend amid sluggish vaccination rates, lax public attitudes toward taking precautions and the government's reluctance to toughen restrictions.
About 45 million Russians, or 32 per cent of the country's nearly 146 million people, are fully vaccinated.
Putin on Wednesday strongly urged Russians to get the shots, saying "it's a matter of your life and health and the health of your dear ones."
"There are only two ways to get over this period — to get sick or to receive a vaccine," Putin said. "It's better to get the vaccine, why wait for the illness and its grave consequences? Please be responsible and take the necessary measures to protect yourself, your health and your close ones."
The Russian leader, who received the domestic Sputnik V vaccine earlier this year, said he's puzzled to see hesitancy about vaccines, even among his close friends.
"I can't understand what's going on," Putin said. "We have a reliable and efficient vaccine. The vaccine really reduces the risks of illness, grave complications and death."
Even though Russia in August 2020 became the first country of the world to authorise a coronavirus vaccine and vaccines are plentiful, Russians have shown hesitancy about getting the shots, a skepticism blamed on conflicting signals sent by authorities.
While extolling Sputnik V and three other domestic vaccines, state-controlled media were often critical of Western-made shots, a controversial message that many saw as feeding public doubts about vaccines in general.
Until now, the Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown like the one early on in the pandemic that dealt a heavy blow to the economy and sapped Putin's popularity, empowering regional authorities across the country's 11 time zones to decide on local restrictions, depending on their situation.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who leads the government coronavirus task force, said Wednesday that the nonworking week will imply restrictions on access to restaurants, cafes, theatres, cinemas, gyms and other facilities, adding that authorities in each region will be expected to take relevant decisions.