Russia Could Enable Lockdown if Health Care Hits 'Critical Point' as New COVID Records Set

Russia could enable another lockdown if regional health care systems hit a "critical point" as the country hit yet another record number of new daily COVID-19 infections and deaths.

On Thursday, the Russian coronavirus task force reported 31,299 new confirmed cases and 986 deaths over 24 hours, the highest since the start of the pandemic.

Despite repeatedly hitting record highs this month, the Kremlin has been reluctant to enact another nationwide lockdown.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the country's health care system has the resources and experience needed to cope with an influx of COVID-19 patients, which will allow authorities to avoid lockdowns "as long as the health care infrastructure isn't overwhelmed and remains in a working condition."

"When the situation approaches a critical point where a regional health care system becomes unable to treat incoming patients the authorities may make the relevant decisions," Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

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Russia could enact a lockdown if healthcare facilities hit a "critical point" amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Above, healthcare workers walk past ambulances at a hospital in Kommunarka, Russia, on October 5, 2021. Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

The country has repeatedly marked record daily death tolls over the past few weeks as infections surged amid a slow vaccination rate and lax enforcement of measures to protect against the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Tuesday that about 43 million Russians, or just about 29 percent of the country's nearly 146 million people, were fully vaccinated.

Putin has emphasized the need to speed up the vaccination rate, but he also has cautioned against forcing people to get vaccine shots.

Despite the mounting toll, the Kremlin has also ruled out a new nationwide lockdown like the one during the first months of the pandemic, which badly crippled the economy and dented Putin's ratings, while delegating the power to enforce coronavirus restrictions to regional authorities.

Asked if there is a level of contagion that would force the Kremlin to impose a lockdown, Peskov said that each of Russia's 85 regions will make a decision depending on the situation.

Some Russian regions already have restricted attendance at large public events and limited access to theaters, restaurants and other places. But life remains largely normal in Moscow, St. Petersburg and many other Russian cities with unrestrained access to restaurants, cafes, nightclubs and other venues.

"If we don't take measures to restrict social communications resulting in growing infections, we will face rising contagion," Health Minister Mikhail Murashko warned Thursday.

Murashko said that more than 1.1 million COVID-19 patients are currently being treated at hospitals and at their homes, adding that the number is putting a "high load" on the nation's health care system.

He noted that 42 percent of Russians older than 65 received the shots, adding that the proportion in the most vulnerable category of the population was clearly insufficient.

Amid the growing strain on the health care system, authorities have offered retired medics who were vaccinated to return to work, Murashko said.

Overall, Russia's coronavirus task force has registered nearly 7.9 million confirmed cases and 220,315 deaths—the highest death toll in Europe. The official record ranks Russia as the fifth-hardest-hit nation in the world following the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.

However, the state statistics agency Rosstat, which also counts deaths where the virus wasn't considered the main cause, has reported a much higher toll of pandemic deaths—about 418,000 deaths of people with COVID-19 as of August. If that higher number is used, Russia would be the fourth hardest-hit nation in the world, surging past Mexico.

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Russia's daily COVID-19 infections and death rates are reaching an all-time high, according to the government. Above, medical workers carry a patient onto a stretcher at a hospital in Kommunarka, Russia, on October 11, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo