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Moscow grapples with record rise in Covid-19 cases, new curfew extended as bosses told they can lay off employees who refuse jab

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Russia’s capital has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with 9,056 positive tests in a 24-hour period and a renewed effort by authorities to encourage people to sign up for a vaccine.

On Friday, officials released statistics showing that more cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed the day before than at any other point in the pandemic. The previous peak was in December, after which the number of infections began to fall. However, Russia has seen a sharp spike in transmission in recent days that has led many to warn a third wave is breaking in the country.

Moscow’s Mayor Sergey Sobyanin painted a bleak picture at a government meeting on Thursday, saying that the situation is “rapidly deteriorating,” and that the sudden rise in cases was “quite unexpected” given estimated levels of immunity in the population. “There has been a three-fold increase” in the number of people testing positive for the virus, the mayor said.

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The city is deploying more beds to deal with a rise in hospitalizations, and has introduced a ban on nightlife past 11pm. Earlier this week, Sobyanin’s deputy, Anastasia Rakova, said that hospitals could run out of capacity in just two or three weeks if the current case load continues. Denis Protsenko, chief of the Kommunarka Hospital, one of the main clinics treating Covid-19 patients, has also said that his wards have a record number of patients on ventilators.

Despite that, officials have rejected earlier media reports and swirling rumors that they are considering a full lockdown.

Citing anonymous sources inside the administration, the Russian-language edition of Forbes said that plans were being developed to return to a total shutdown, which has not been in place since the beginning of last year. However, the head of Moscow’s Department for Trade and Services said that the claims “do not correspond to reality.”

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Medical specialists wearing protective gear transport a patient at the City Hospital Number 40, where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease are treated, in Kommunarka settlement in the south of Moscow, Russia.
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Instead, current restrictions, which force bars, restaurants, clubs and other public venues to shut between 11pm and 6am have been extended for another week in the city famous for its late-night venue openings. 

Mass events with more than 1,000 attendees have also been canceled, with Sobyanin saying that “we warned everyone. Please, in stadiums, in large concert halls, be more careful, comply with the requirements. And what happened? There are crowds of cheering people on the dance floors,” he explained.

Moscow has also become the first city in the world to begin requiring public-facing employees, such as those working in hospitality, transport and museums, to be vaccinated. While both Sobyanin and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov have denied this amounts to forcing people to get the jab, businesses in these sectors with fewer than 60% of their staff vaccinated will face fines. On Thursday, officials confirmed that companies can suspend employees without pay if they refuse, in order to meet their quotas.

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FILE PHOTO: A medical worker takes care of a patient at a temporary hospital in the Krylatskoye Ice Palace, where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated, in Moscow, Russia June 11, 2021. © Denis Grishkin/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
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Sobyanin is also considering plans that would allow ‘Covid-free’ restaurants to operate beyond the curfew, catering to only fully-vaccinated clientele. Punters would have to scan a QR code at the door to demonstrate they have been immunized against the virus.

Moscow’s case-load appears to far outstrip other cities across the country, despite only around one in ten Russians living in the capital. Together with the surrounding Moscow region, the city has recorded more than 10,000 of the 17,262 documented infections nationwide. However, due to the fact that many patients have no symptoms or avoid getting a test, the true numbers may be far higher.

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