Russia Gets Work Stoppage Order As Some Hospitals Suspend Care for Non-COVID Patients

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a weeklong nonworking period to take effect Oct. 30 as hospitals in some regions overwhelmed by COVID-19 infections were forced to suspend care for patients without the virus, the Associated Press reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that vaccination levels in those regions were notably low and called the hospitals' need to turn away non-COVID patients "very sad."

Russia has consistently broken records for death toll highs in recent weeks, with the 1,028 reported Wednesday by the government task force becoming the highest number throughout the entire pandemic. Putin said Wednesday that he backed a proposal from the Cabinet to initiate a nonworking period on Oct. 30, adding that some regions hit hardest by the virus could see the order go into effect as soon as Saturday and last past Nov. 7, the AP reported.

"Our task today is to protect life and health of our citizens and minimize the consequences of the dangerous infection," Putin said during 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."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Putin Recommends Work Stoppage
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a weeklong nonworking period to take effect Oct. 30 as hospitals in some regions overwhelmed by COVID-19 infections were forced to suspend care for patients without the virus. Putin attends a meeting of the State Council Presidium to discuss the country's transport strategy until 2030 via video conference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Evgeny Paulin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

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.

About 45 million Russians, or 32 percent of the country's nearly 146 million people, are fully vaccinated.

Putin on Wednesday strongly urged Russians to get the shots, saying "it's a matter of your life and health and the health of your dear ones."

"There are only two ways to get over this period — to get sick or to receive a vaccine," Putin said. "It's better to get the vaccine, why wait for the illness and its grave consequences? Please be responsible and take the necessary measures to protect yourself, your health and your close ones."

The Russian leader, who received the domestic Sputnik V vaccine earlier this year, said he's puzzled to see hesitancy about vaccines, even among his close friends.

"I can't understand what's going on," Putin said. "We have a reliable and efficient vaccine. The vaccine really reduces the risks of illness, grave complications and death."

Even though Russia in August 2020 became the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine and vaccines are plentiful, Russians have shown hesitancy about getting the shots, a skepticism blamed on conflicting signals sent by authorities.

While extolling Sputnik V and three other domestic vaccines, state-controlled media were often critical of Western-made shots, a controversial message that many saw as feeding public doubts about vaccines in general.

Until now, the Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown like the one early on in the pandemic that dealt a heavy blow to the economy and sapped Putin's popularity, empowering regional authorities across the country's 11 time zones to decide on local restrictions, depending on their situation.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who leads the government coronavirus task force, said Wednesday that the nonworking week will imply restrictions on access to restaurants, cafes, theaters, cinemas, gyms and other facilities, adding that authorities in each region will be expected to take relevant decisions.

The Cabinet has drafted compensatory measures to help absorb the shock for the business, including one-time payments equivalent to a minimum monthly pay per worker and low-interest credits.

Many of Russia's 85 regions already have restricted attendance at large public events and limited access to theaters, restaurants and other venues. Some have made vaccinations compulsory for certain public servants and people over 60.

In Moscow, however, life has continued as usual, with restaurants and movie theaters brimming with people, crowds swarming nightclubs and karaoke bars and commuters widely ignoring mask mandates on public transportation even as ICUs have filled in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said unvaccinated people over 60 will be required to stay home. He also told businesses to keep at least a third of their employees working remotely for three months starting Oct. 25.

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

However, state statistics agency Rosstat, which also counts deaths in which the virus wasn't considered the main cause, has reported a much higher pandemic death toll — 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.

COVID Patients in Moscow
Russia has consistently broken records for death toll highs in recent weeks, with the 1,028 reported by the government task force Wednesday becoming the highest number throughout the entire pandemic. A medic wearing a special suit to protect against coronavirus treats a patient with coronavirus at an ICU at the Moscow City Clinical Hospital 52, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo