Russia imposes restrictions amid rising COVID-19 deaths and strained hospitals
As an increasingly deadly fourth wave of COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm Russia’s hospitals, officials who have been reluctant to impose restrictions in recent months are now doing so in a desperate attempt to reduce the record number of people dying every day.
There was an all-time high of 37,930 new cases as well as 1,069 additional deaths on Monday, according to the country’s coronavirus task force.
“There is a real red zone war going on in hospitals across the country,” wrote Dr. Denis Protsenko, the country’s senior coronavirus doctor, on his Telegram social media account
“Look at the number of free beds and a lot will work out.”
Prozenko is the chief physician of the Kommunarka Infectious Disease Hospital in Moscow.
According to local officials, cases in the Russian capital have increased by 30 percent every week since September and hover around 8,000 a day – a development that Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has described as a “worst-case scenario”.
Alexander Lobanov from Moscow turns 60 a few days after the new coronavirus restrictions come into force. He’s not vaccinated and could stay home on a four month arrangement unless he gets the injection. (Briar Stewart / CBC)
To curb the spread, the city is introducing a partial lockdown that will begin on Thursday.
From Monday, everyone over the age of 60 must stay at home until February 25 if they have not been vaccinated or previously infected with COVID-19 in the last six months.
On his website, Sobyanin urged grandparents to get vaccinated, pointing out that the vaccination rate for those over 60 in Moscow is just over 30 percent, while that demographic makes up 86 percent of those who work in the hospitals of the City die.
In an effort to increase vaccinations in this age group and the chronically ill, the city of 12 million will impose strict restrictions on those who have not been vaccinated or previously infected from October 25.
They are supposed to stay at home for four months, but they are allowed to walk and do sports.
Artyom Sabirov, the manager of Uilliam’s restaurant in Moscow, said it was disappointing to close again, especially after receiving a Michelin recommendation. (Briar Stewart / CBC)
It’s not clear how the order will be enforced, but during the first lockdown in spring 2020, Maria Markova said public health officials called to check her out to make sure she was home.
The 73-year-old, who had COVID-19 in 2020, is not vaccinated and said it was due to underlying health conditions.
“I don’t think it’s right for them to force people,” Markova told CBC as she was walking near the Moscow River on Friday.
“The retirees and the elderly are the target again? That is completely unacceptable.”
Alexander Lobanov, who will turn 60 on November 1, spoke to CBC while riding his bike nearby. He’s also not vaccinated, but has resigned himself to the fact that he may have to have it.
“I feel like I have no other choice now,” he said.
A specialist doctor works in the intensive care unit of City Clinical Hospital Number 52, where people suffering from COVID-19 will be treated in Moscow on October 21, 2021. (Maxim Shemtov / Reuters)
With more than 1,000 people dying from COVID-19 every day for the past 10 days and vaccination rates lagging behind, Russia has declared a non-working week from November 1-7.
It coincides with the national holidays on November 4th and 5th for Unity Day, which commemorates a 1612 uprising against Polish and Lithuanian troops.
In addition to the non-working week, Moscow is imposing a partial lockdown between October 28 and November 7. During this time, all non-essential shops will be closed and eating in restaurants will be banned, but public transport will continue.
11 day restrictions
Theaters and museums will also continue to operate, but at 50 percent capacity, and all visitors will be required to show a vaccination QR code or proof that they recently had a COVID-19 infection.
The measures are said to only last 11 days, and the mayor said the restrictions are similar to taking aspirin for a fever.
The pill will not cure the disease, he wrote, but it does give the body a break.
“Let’s rest a little and help save the lives and health of many people,” he wrote.
Some other cities, including St. Petersburg, which will also be partially closed on October 30, are making it mandatory for all public places such as restaurants and gyms to require guests to provide a QR code.
However, Moscow does not require that.
Moscow-born Elena Romanchenko, 34, is not vaccinated and says no one in her family has been vaccinated. (Briar Stewart / CBC)
Officials enacted the measure in June but lifted it after three weeks under pressure from the hospitality industry.
In Moscow’s affluent Patriarch Ponds neighborhood, the streets are lined with fine dining, including Uilliams, which last week was one of nearly 70 restaurants in the city recognized by the French Michelin Guide.
The recommendation would normally be a boon for reservations, but Uilliam’s, an Italian restaurant, is preparing to close its doors to customers.
“I think it’s necessary and maybe it will help,” said 28-year-old Artyom Sabirov, the Uilliams manager.
“The main thing is that it doesn’t take as long as it did two years ago.”
Hesitation about restrictions
While officials in Russia have been reluctant to impose restrictions, the climbs and deaths are taking their toll on hospitals and medical staff.
In the Siberian city of Biysk, 3,000 kilometers southeast of Moscow, there are reports that some hospital workers have to work 72 hours straight to keep up with the number of COVID-19 patients admitted. The city also had to build an additional morgue.
In Biysk, as elsewhere in Russia, vaccination rates are low.
Across the country, just over 40 percent of adults have received two doses of a vaccine, according to Gogov, which summarizes statistics from across Russia.
Pavel Volchkov, a scientist at Moscow’s Institute of Physics and Technology, believes the city’s partial lockdown will lower the rising COVID-19 case rate. (Briar Stewart / CBC)
The Sputnik-V shot that Russia revealed in August 2020 has not been approved for use in anyone under the age of 18, leaving the country’s 30 million or so children unvaccinated.
Despite requests from government officials, including President Vladimir Putin, who received the Sputnik vaccination, vaccination rates have stalled.
On October 21, Putin reiterated that he was not in favor of compulsory vaccinations, but stressed that people only have two options for “getting sick or getting vaccinated”.
The Kremlin-friendly broadcaster Dmitry Kiselyov, 67, who hosts the weekly news program Vesti Nedeli, uses much stronger words.
He usually uses airtime to criticize Western governments and culture, but lately he’s been railing against Russia’s unvaccinated
Kiselyov, who said he was vaccinated in January, was hospitalized with coronavirus last month.
Sputnik vaccine not yet approved by the WHO
“Refusing the vaccine can only be described as sociopathic behavior,” he said on his Sunday newscast.
“The lion’s share of government funds is used to treat the unvaccinated. The unvaccinated do not want to take responsibility.”
While several research studies, including one published in the medical journal The Lancet, have indicated the effectiveness of the Sputnik vaccine, it has not yet been approved by the World Health Organization.
In Russia, those who refuse to get the vaccination are those who don’t trust the government’s shot and those who generally don’t support vaccination.
Elena Romachenko, 34, told CBC that a person can control their own health.
“Eat well, exercise,” she said. “Go to the resort, to the sea, to the mountains, then you will be healthy.”
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Pavel Volchkov, head of a genomic engineering laboratory at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, believes that most vaccine objectors are not against vaccines, but believes they don’t need them.
“I call it the superhero syndrome,” Volchkov told CBC.
“They believe SARS-CoV-2 cannot infect them if they have been able to withstand COVID-19 for the past year and a half.”
Volchkov, who helped develop COVID-19 tests in the early days of the pandemic, believes countries need to take a more rigorous approach, as was the case in China and Australia, which occurred after a small number of Cases blocked entire regions.
He thinks compulsory vaccination is part of the answer, but finds it unpopular and unsustainable in most countries.
As for Russia, he said, in order to have “good immunity of the population”, 70 percent or more would have to be vaccinated.
As children cannot currently be vaccinated in the country, all adults would need to be vaccinated.
And with more than half of them unwilling to get an injection, he said the government has no choice but to put restrictions every time hospitals are on the verge of congestion.