As Russia Reports Record COVID Deaths, Moscow Closes Largest Vaccination Center

Russia reported a record number of deaths from the coronavirus for a third time this month on Tuesday while officials in Moscow shut down the city's biggest vaccination center even as low vaccination rates contribute to the worsening pandemic.

Moscow officials announced Monday that the largest vaccination point in the capital in Gostiny Dvor, a huge exhibition space, would be closed in order to hold "cultural events" at the location instead.

The closure comes as Russia's state coronavirus task force reported 895 new fatalities, the country's highest daily death toll in the pandemic, and 25,110 new confirmed cases on Tuesday. In Moscow alone, daily new infections have nearly quadrupled from about 1,100 in early September to about 4,000 this week.

Even as the vaccination center closes, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin promised to start offering free rapid COVID-19 tests in malls and government services centers.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Russia COVID-19
Russia on Oct. 5 recorded its highest daily coronavirus death toll as cases linked to the Delta variant spike amid a lackluster vaccination drive and few anti-virus restrictions. People wearing protective face masks walk from the underpass under the street with the Historical Museum and the Kremlin in the background in Moscow on Oct. 5, 2021. Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

This month, records in fatalities came every other day: the previous record, of 890 deaths, was registered on Sunday, and the one before that, of 887 deaths, occurred on Friday.

The Kremlin has said that the situation elicits concern, but still it is not considering a countrywide lockdown or any other nationwide measures.

A number of Russian regions have limited attendance of mass events and restricted access to some public places, such as theaters, cinemas, restaurants and bars, only to those who have been vaccinated, recently recovered from COVID-19 or tested negative over the past 72 hours. But critics argue that these measures aren't enough to slow down the surge.

In some areas of the country, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, life remains largely normal, with businesses operating as usual and mask mandates loosely enforced.

In the meantime, Russia's vast, yet severely underfunded health care system has started to show signs of being overwhelmed by the outbreak.

Russian media have reported long lines of ambulances once again forming in front of hospitals in St. Petersburg, the country's second-largest city, and a desperate ambulance crew in the city of Vladimir 180 kilometers (about 110 miles) east of Moscow driving a COVID-19 patient to a local government building after failing to find a hospital bed for her.

Officials have blamed low vaccine uptake. Commenting on the record deaths reported on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the "main cause" of the surge in fatalities was "the insufficient level of vaccination."

"The virus is becoming angrier, and the level of vaccination is insufficient. And as a rule, those who haven't been vaccinated get seriously ill and, unfortunately, die," Peskov told reporters Tuesday.

As of last week, 33.5 percent of Russia's 146-million population have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine, and just 27.4 percent have been fully vaccinated.

According to Gogov.ru, a independent website that tracks vaccinations in Russia, immunization rates are down to the level of April, after spiking between June and August, when dozens of Russian regions made shots mandatory for certain groups of people. The website estimates that about 129,000 people a day get their first shots, and a total of some 244,000 first and second shots a day is being administered in Russia at the moment.

Peskov has attributed the slow pace of the immunization drive to "an insufficiently active campaign explaining that there are no alternatives" to vaccination.

Experts have pointed to several other factors, such as mistrust prompted by the approval and rollout of the dominating domestic vaccine, Sputnik V, even though at the time it hadn't completed large-scale trials necessary to establish its safety and effectiveness, and lack of motivation to get the shots at a time when few restrictions are in place mixed signals from the authorities about the outbreak.

In a confusing message, some Russian news outlets alerted Monday that the head of country's public health agency Rospotrebnadzor Anna Popova banned all mass events in light of the surge, only to correct themselves later that Popova in fact didn't announce any new restrictions, but was rather talking about the ones already in place that prohibit public events for more than 3,000 people.

In all, Russia's coronavirus task force has reported over 7.6 million confirmed cases and nearly 212,000 deaths. However, reports by Russia's state statistical service Rosstat that tally coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively reveal much higher mortality numbers.

Russia COVID Record
Russia has reported a record daily death toll from COVID-19 on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, the third record number this month. In this Monday, July 12, 2021 filer, a medical worker wearing protective gear escorts a man, suspected of having coronavirus, at a hospital in Kommunarka, outside Moscow, Russia. Pavel Golovkin, File/AP Photo