Moscow sees new variants behind Covid-19 spike

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New variants of Covid-19 are suspected of causing a sudden increase in the number of cases in the Russian capital, the mayor said on Thursday amid a sluggish vaccination campaign.

“It is very likely that we will face new, more aggressive variants that are spreading faster,” said Mayor Sergei Sobyanin during a video conference with government officials fighting the pandemic.

He noted that daily infections in the capital had risen from 3,000 to 7,000 within a few days and were expected to reach more than 9,000 on Friday.

“It has tripled, there is tremendous momentum that we haven’t seen in the previous waves,” added Sobyanin.

The mayor on Wednesday ordered compulsory vaccinations for Moscow service residents, citing a “dramatic” increase in coronavirus infections.

About 60 percent of all workers in the service industry in Moscow – just over two million people – had to be fully vaccinated by August 15, including taxi drivers, employees of cultural institutions and restaurant workers.

Sobyanin announced on Saturday that this week would be a “non-working” week in the capital to try to contain the virus.

Moscow health authorities have reported a steady increase in the number of new infections in recent weeks, reflecting a trend across Russia.

Health Minister Mikhail Muraschko told the video conference that the number of cases across Russia had increased by an average of 30 percent in recent weeks and that people between the ages of 30 and 40 were particularly affected.

“The proportion of the Indian (Delta) variant has developed significantly in the last two weeks,” adds Anna Popova, head of the Rospotrebnadzor health station.

The increase in cases is due to authorities’ efforts to encourage Russians to vaccinate, despite the country launching a mass campaign of free vaccinations in December.

Sobyanin, whose city of around 12 million people is the epicenter of the outbreak in Russia, said only 1.8 million people have been vaccinated.

As of December, only 19 million out of a national population of 146 million have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the Gogov website, which, in the absence of a national statistics bureau, is aggregating Covid numbers from the regions and the media.

Russia overtook Britain on Thursday as the European country with the highest number of Covid deaths at 127,992.

However, statistics agency Rosstat, which uses a broader clinical definition of deaths related to Covid-19, says at least 270,000 Russians have died from coronavirus.

alf / tbm / cac / bp / har

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