MOSCOW – Russian health authorities have shortened the required isolation period for those who come in contact with COVID-19 patients from 14 days to seven, a move that comes as an unprecedented surge of coronavirus infections, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, rips through the vast country.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced the degree Tuesday. It only changes the rules for those who had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, not for those with a confirmed infection. Those who test positive are still required to isolate for 14 days, with a mandatory test on day 10 or 11.
Daily new infections in Russia have been rising sharply for the past two weeks, increasing more than four-fold — from about 15,000 on Jan. 10 to 67,809 on Tuesday, the highest daily tally in the pandemic.
However, according to Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, no significant increase in hospitalizations has been seen. Hospital admissions grew by just 6.4%. A total of 116,000 COVID-19 patients were in Russian hospitals on Tuesday, with about 50,000 other hospital beds across the country unoccupied.
According to Anna Popova, head of Russia's public healthcare watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, 52% of all new infections are being registered in Moscow, the capital's outlying region and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.
The surge in Moscow, which reported nearly 19,000 new cases Tuesday, has put a strain on the city’s outpatient clinics. Social media users have posted long lines of people waiting to see a doctor. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said Tuesday that the influx of patients to outpatient facilities has grown four-fold.
In all, Russia's state coronavirus task force has reported over 11.2 million confirmed cases and 327,448 deaths, by far the largest death toll in Europe. Russia’s state statistics agency, which uses broader counting criteria, puts the death toll much higher, saying the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.
Officials have warned that the current surge is the country’s biggest yet, but haven’t announced any major restrictions to stem it.
Just about half of Russia’s 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, even though Russia boasted about being the first country in the world to approve and roll out a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine.
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