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Russia Scrambles to Contain New Covid-19 Surge

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MOSCOW — Russian officials scrambled on Saturday to slow the spread of a new wave of the coronavirus, ordering workers in Moscow to take next week off and pleading with the populace to make use of widely available vaccines.

The biggest spike appeared to be in Moscow, the Russian capital, which reported 6,701 new cases on Saturday — more than double the rise five days ago, and the highest single-day total since December. Mayor Sergey S. Sobyanin said the situation had “sharply worsened” in the past week, and that thousands of hospital beds were being repurposed to provide care for Covid-19 patients.

“According to epidemiologists, it is now necessary to at least slow down the speed of, if not stop, the spread of the virus,” Mr. Sobyanin said on his blog.

Bars and restaurants will be required to stop serving customers at 11 p.m., food courts in shopping malls will be closed, and public playgrounds and athletic grounds will be closed, Mr. Sobyanin said. Most employers will be required to keep workers home — with pay — next week. However, Mr. Sobyanin did not impose new restrictions on indoor dining beyond the 11 p.m. cutoff, reflecting the Kremlin’s prioritization of the economy in its policies during the pandemic.

Overall, Russia reported 13,510 new cases on Saturday, the highest number since February and a 50 percent rise from a week earlier. Just as worrying to epidemiologists is that Russia’s vaccination campaign appears to be stalling. President Vladimir V. Putin said on Saturday that 18 million people had been vaccinated in the country, which is less than 13 percent of the population, even though Russia’s Sputnik V shots have been widely available for months.

“Right now, we can vaccinate everyone in Russia given the volume of vaccine being produced,” Mr. Putin said at an annual state awards ceremony at the Kremlin on Saturday, according to Interfax. “The question is that, as always — it’s a typical phenomenon here — people are cautious about all such procedures.”

The two-dose Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6 percent effective against the coronavirus, according to peer-reviewed research published in The Lancet in January. But polls show that nearly two-thirds of Russians say they do not plan to get the vaccine. Analysts attribute Russians’ hesitancy to a seemingly contradictory mix of factors: widespread distrust of the authorities on the one hand, and frequent state television reports describing the coronavirus as mostly defeated or not very dangerous on the other.

Russian officials frequently claim that the country has handled the coronavirus better than the West. There have been no large-scale lockdowns in the country since last summer. The official death toll stands at 126,073, but the unusually high number of deaths in the past year suggests that the real toll is several times higher.

Now, with Western countries emerging from lockdowns, Russia runs the risk of entering a vicious new wave of the virus. And officials are starting to acknowledge that the pandemic will not end in the country anytime soon unless the vaccination rate accelerates drastically.

“Until we have truly mass vaccination, the city will constantly be getting sick,” Mr. Sobyanin said on Saturday.

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