Kremlin blames 'nihilism' as Moscow sees record COVID-19 infections

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Friday blamed a surge in COVID-19 cases on reluctance to get vaccinated due to “nihilism” after a record 9,000 new infections in the capital city fanned fears of a third wave.

FILE PHOTO: A specialist wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) sprays disinfectant while sanitizing the Rizhsky Railway Station, one of the measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia June 17, 2021. Moscow Division of Russian Emergencies Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

Russia, the world’s largest country, reported 17,262 new coronavirus infections nationwide.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin extended restrictions he had imposed earlier, which include a ban on public events with more than 1,000 people, an 11 p.m. closing time for cafes and restaurants, and the closure of fan zones set up for the European soccer championship.

Sobyanin said earlier this week that Moscow, home to 13 million people, was facing a new, more aggressive and infectious coronavirus variant, and that the situation in the city was deteriorating rapidly.

It was not clear if he was referring to the Delta variant, which was first identified in India and has caused a resurgence of cases in Britain.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin was monitoring the situation closely.

Asked to explain the surge in cases Peskov blamed the virus’s “cunning nature”, a reference to its mutations, as well as “total nihilism, and the low vaccination level”.

At a briefing, he rejected the idea, posited by some critics, that Russians were reluctant to have vaccinations because they distrusted the authorities.

As of June 2, the most recent tally available, only 18 million Russians had received at least one dose of vaccine people so far: at one-eighth of the population, that is far less that most Western countries.

Moscow authorities this week ordered all workers with public-facing roles to have a vaccination.

Sobyanin said on Friday he expected the city government to start the inoculation of migrant workers with Sputnik Light – a single dose of the Sputnik V vaccine – early next month.

But he also said it was “vitally important” to start administering further booster doses – in effect, a third dose. He said he himself had just received a top-up, after being fully vaccinated two doses a year ago.

He said the third doses being offered were a repeat of the first dose of the two-shot Sputnik V vaccine.

Several Russian officials and members of the business elite, as well as some members of the public, have already been securing third and fourth doses of Sputnik V, Reuters reported in April.

The question of how long a vaccine offers protection against COVID-19 will be vital as countries gauge when or whether revaccination will be needed, and Russia’s findings will be closely watched elsewhere.

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