Russian Health Agency Says Country's COVID Cases Could Reach Six-Figure Daily Highs

Russian health officials warned Tuesday of a potential spike in coronavirus cases from the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, with one official saying that six-figure infection numbers per day were possible in the country.

Anna Popova, head of Russian public health agency Rospotrebnadzor, said Omicron has been detected in 13 of 80 regions in Russia and is also present in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the nation's two biggest cities.

However, Popova and other health officials stopped short of issuing any new COVID-19 restrictions, like capacity limits or mask mandates. Only 305 cases of Omicron have been confirmed so far in Russia, officials said.

Thirty-five of the nation's 80 regions have infection rates higher than the current national average, with Russia reporting about 15,000 to 18,000 new infections per day, compared with last month's rate of about 30,000 daily. Officials said that number is likely to spike in the coming weeks.

Russia leads Europe in deaths from the virus: 10.6 million cases have been confirmed and at least 317,618 people have died.

Anna Popova Russia COVID Omicron
Russian officials on Tuesday warned of a looming surge of coronavirus infections due to the highly contagious Omicron variant. Above, the head of the Russian public health agency Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova, speaks during a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States' heads of state on December 28, 2021. Yevgeny Biyatov/AFP via Getty Images

The warning on Tuesday comes just weeks after new infections and deaths in Russia began to decline following another record-breaking surge.

Russia's state statistics agency, which uses broader counting criteria, puts the death toll much higher, saying the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.

Despite only 305 confirmed Omicron cases in the country, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said there have been cases of community spread.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said Tuesday that Omicron is spreading fast in the Russian capital. "Within seven-10 days, I believe, we will be seeing a significant surge in infections," he said.

Sobyanin added that the virus situation in Moscow might become even more "critical" than it was during previous surges.

Moscow health officials reported 4,635 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, a toll almost twice as high as the previous day. Russia saw 17,525 new infections on Tuesday—up from 15,830 on Monday.

Despite the warning signs, no new restrictions were announced, and it remained unclear if there are plans to introduce any. Russia had only one nationwide lockdown in 2020, and in October many Russians were ordered to stay out of work for a week amid a surge of infections and deaths. But generally the authorities have resisted shutting down businesses or imposing any tough restrictions.

Russian lawmakers late last year introduced legislation restricting access to public places to those who have been vaccinated, recovered or medically exempt from getting a jab, but the law hasn't yet passed all three readings in the parliament.

Similar restrictions already exist in some Russian regions but are often loosely implemented. In others, they were relaxed ahead of the New Year holidays.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.