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MOSCOW (AP) – President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered most Russians to stay off work for a week starting later this month amid rising COVID-19 infections and deaths, and he strongly urged reluctant citizens to get vaccinated.
The government coronavirus task force reported 1,028 deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. That brought Russia’s death toll to 226,353, by far the highest in Europe.
Mr. Putin said he supports the Cabinet’s proposal to introduce a nonworking period starting October 30 and extending through the following week, when four of seven days are already non-working, including a two-day state holiday. In some regions where the situation is the most threatening, he said the nonworking period could start as early as Saturday and be extended past November 7.
“Our task today is to protect life and health of our citizens and minimize the consequences of the dangerous infection,” Mr. Putin said in a video call with top officials. “To achieve that, it’s necessary to first of all slow the pace of contagion and mobilize additional reserves of the health care system, which is currently working under a high strain.”
Russia’s daily coronavirus mortality numbers have been surging for weeks and topped 1,000 for the first time over the weekend amid sluggish vaccination rates, lax public attitudes toward taking precautions and the government’s reluctance to toughen restrictions. Only about 45 million Russians—roughly a third of its nearly 146 million people—are fully vaccinated.
The nonworking period should help limit the spread by keeping people out of offices and off crowded public transportation, but Moscow and many other cities have not curbed access to restaurants, cafes, bars, theaters and gyms.
When the Cabinet proposed the measure Tuesday, many Russians rushed to book flights to Black Sea resorts to take advantage of the break.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who leads the task force, emphasized that the nonworking week should imply limiting access to restaurants, theaters and other entertainment venues, adding that regional authorities will be expected to impose restrictions.
She particularly urged Russians to refrain from traveling to other regions during the period and emphasized the need for relatives of those infected to stay home.