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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered the country’s workers to be off work for a week later this month amid rising numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths, and urged reluctant citizens to get vaccinated.

The government task force on Wednesday reported 1,028 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. This brought the total death toll in Russia to 226,353, the highest in Europe so far.

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Putin said on Wednesday that he supports a cabinet proposal to introduce a non-working period starting October 30 and extending it to next week, when four of the seven days are already state holidays. He said in some areas, where the situation is most alarming, the non-working period may start from Saturday and be extended after November 7.

“Our job today is to protect the lives and health of our citizens and minimize the consequences of dangerous infections,” Putin said in a video call with top officials. “To achieve this, it is first necessary to slow down the pace of contagion and mobilize additional reserves of the health care system, which is currently operating under a high strain.”

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Russia’s daily coronavirus death toll has been rising for weeks and above 1,000 for the first time over the weekend, amid sluggish vaccination rates, public attitudes toward precautions and the government’s reluctance to toughen restrictions.

About 45 million Russians, or 32% of the country’s roughly 146 million people, have been fully vaccinated.

“It’s a matter of your life and health and the health of your loved ones,” Putin strongly urged Russians to take the shot on Wednesday.

“There are only two ways to get through this period – getting sick or getting vaccinated,” Putin said. “It is better to get the vaccine, why wait for the disease and its serious consequences? Please be responsible and take necessary measures to protect yourself, your health and those close to you.”

The Russian leader, who received the domestic Sputnik V vaccine earlier this year, said he was surprised to see hesitation about vaccines even among close friends.

“I don’t understand what’s going on,” Putin said. “We have a reliable and efficient vaccine. The vaccine really does reduce the risk of illness, serious complications, and death.”

Even though Russia became the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine in August 2020 and vaccines are plentiful, Russians have hesitated to get shots, casting doubts on conflicting signals sent by officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with the heads of intelligence services of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries via teleconference in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, October 13, 2021.  (Aleksey Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin pool photo via AP)

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While praising Sputnik V and three other domestic vaccines, state-controlled media often criticized Western-made shots, a controversial message that many saw as feeding public skepticism about vaccines in general.

So far, the Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown, such as the one at the start of the pandemic, which dealt a huge blow to the economy and took away Putin’s popularity, based on local restrictions to regional authorities in the country’s 11 time zones. empowered to make decisions. their position.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who leads the government’s coronavirus task force, said on Wednesday that the non-working week would impose restrictions on access to restaurants, cafes, theatres, cinemas, gyms and other facilities, with authorities in each zone taking measures would be expected. relevant decision.

The cabinet has drafted compensatory measures to help absorb the shock for the business, including a minimum monthly wage per employee and a lump-sum payment equal to low-interest credits.

Many of Russia’s 85 regions already have restricted attendance at large public events and limited access to cinemas, restaurants and other venues. Some have made vaccination mandatory for some public servants and those over 60.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference after meeting with US President Joe Biden at the 'Villa La Grange' in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

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In some areas, rising infections forced authorities to suspend medical aid to the population as health care facilities were forced to focus on treating coronavirus patients.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged the situation is “very sad”, noting that vaccination levels were particularly low in those areas.

In Moscow, however, life has continued as usual, with restaurants and movie theaters full of people, nightclubs and karaoke bars thronging, and commuters widely ignoring the mask mandate on public transport, Even the ICU has filled up in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said people over 60 would need to stay at home. He also asked businesses to keep at least a third of their employees working remotely for three months starting October 25.

The government task force has recorded a total of more than 8 million infections and its official COVID-19 toll ranks Russia with the fifth-highest number of pandemic deaths in the world, behind the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico. .

However, the state statistics agency Rosstat, which also counts deaths in which the virus was not thought to be the main cause, has reported a much higher death toll from the pandemic – about 418,000 people with COVID-19 as of August. Based on that number, Russia would be the fourth hardest hit nation ahead of Mexico.