Some Russians Go On Vacation as Putin Orders Weeklong Work Stoppage to Combat COVID Rise

Moscow entered a nonworking period Thursday and more of Russia is soon to follow suit in an effort to curb rising COVID-19 infection rates and deaths. But a good number of Russians looked to leverage the time off from work by taking seaside vacations in anticipation of the lengthy winter season.

Authorities in southern Russia worried about a possible jump in infections moved to close down entertainment venues and restrict access to restaurants and bars. Additionally, the number of sales for package tours in Egypt and Turkey also saw a sudden increase.

The nonworking period ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to begin Oct. 30 and last through Nov. 7, but some of the more seriously affected regions and Moscow began early. Under that order, most state organizations and private businesses are required to halt operations until the off-work period has ended.

The 1,159 deaths reported by Russia's COVID-19 task force Thursday mark the highest toll since the start of the pandemic. Russia has recorded the most deaths in all of Europe, with the count now standing at 235,057, according to the AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Russia COVID Outbreak
A good number of Russians looked to leverage time off from work during a nonworking period ordered by President Vladimir Putin by taking seaside vacations in anticipation of the lengthy winter season. Above, an elderly couple walk across the Red Square amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Moscow on October 28, 2021. Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

Moscow shut down kindergartens, schools, gyms, entertainment venues and most stores Thursday, allowing restaurants and cafes to only provide service for takeout or delivery. Food stores, pharmacies and companies operating key infrastructure remained open.

Access to museums, theaters, concert halls and other venues is limited to people holding digital codes on their smartphones to prove they have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, a practice that will remain in place after Nov. 7.

Putin has also instructed local officials to close nightclubs and other entertainment venues, and ordered unvaccinated people older than 60 to stay home.

The number of new daily cases in Russia rose by 40,096 on Thursday, topping a previous record reached earlier this week. The government hopes that the nonworking period will help curb the spread by keeping most people out of offices and public transportation.

Authorities have blamed the surging contagion and deaths on the laggard pace of vaccination. Only about 49 million Russians—about a third of the country's nearly 146 million people—are fully vaccinated.

Russia was the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine in August 2020, proudly naming the shot Sputnik V after the first artificial satellite to showcase the country's scientific prowess. But the vaccination campaign has slumped amid widespread public skepticism blamed on conflicting signals from authorities.

Putin has deplored Russians' vaccine hesitancy. "There are just two options for everyone—to get sick, or receive a vaccine," he said last week. "And there is no way to walk between the raindrops."

Regional officials have made shots mandatory for certain categories of workers, but Putin rejected proposals to make them compulsory for everyone, emphasizing that they should remain voluntary.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that authorities would continue efforts to persuade Russians to get immunized until the goal of attaining collective immunity is achieved.

"This is an ongoing campaign that must and is being carried out on a permanent basis," Peskov said, dismissing a newspaper report alleging that authorities plan to relaunch a campaign promoting vaccination. "We need to persuade everyone."

Asked if the Kremlin might eventually make vaccines mandatory, Peskov said only that authorities would closely monitor the numbers.

"We will see how the situation evolves," Peskov said during a conference call with reporters. "For now, the numbers don't give grounds for optimism."

Moscow Enters Nonworking Period
Officials in Moscow ordered a shutdown period to begin Thursday, with gyms, most entertainment venues, stores and schools to be closed for 11 days. Above, customers sit in the Dizengof/99 restaurant in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. Pavel Golovkin/AP Photo