Vladimir Putin Tells Officials Russia Has 'Couple of Weeks' to Prepare for Omicron Surge

Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a mobilization of health care workers to prepare for a new COVID-19 surge during a meeting with the country's government officials.

"We see what's happening in the world. It means we have at least a couple of weeks to prepare," Putin said.

After weeks of declining cases, the quickly spreading Omicron variant is causing a record-breaking surge in the country. According to Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, the number of confirmed Omicron cases in Russia increased by more than 100 percent from Tuesday to Wednesday.

"We can't avoid a new epidemic surge," Golikova said.

While Golikova didn't mention specifics, she added the Russian government would start implementing new procedures in response to the growing number of cases. She did indicate the first region likely to be hit with the upcoming surge is the Moscow area.

"It's obvious that we are in a very difficult situation today, in a situation on the verge of possible new surges [of the virus]," Putin said in a government meeting.

The Omicron variant spreads more quickly than other coronavirus strains and has quickly become the dominant strain in many countries, forcing many European nations to implement new mask and vaccine mandates.

Vladimir Putin Omicron Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin warns the country to prepare for a new Omicron-driven surge in COVID cases. Above, Putin speaks during his annual press conference at the Moscow Manege, on December 23, 2021, in Moscow. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Although early studies show the Omicron variant is less likely to cause severe illness like the Delta strain, it does easily infects those who have either been vaccinated or had previously been infected by earlier versions of the virus.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Russia's state coronavirus task force reported more than 17,000 new infections, up from about 15,000 on Monday.

Russia this year has been reporting between 15,000 and 18,000 new infections a day, compared with December's rate of about 30,000 daily cases. The country's state coronavirus task force has registered over 10.6 million confirmed infections and 317,618 deaths overall.

Russia's state statistics agency, which used 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.

Russia only had one nationwide lockdown in 2020. However, many Russians were ordered to stay off work for a week amid a surge of infections and deaths in October, but generally, the authorities have resisted shutting down businesses or imposing any strict restrictions.

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

Similar restrictions already exist in some Russian regions but are often loosely implemented. In others areas, restrictions were relaxed during the December and New Year's holidays.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.