Moscow Orders Mandatory Covid Vaccinations as Hospitals Strain

Moscow ordered service-sector and municipal workers to get vaccinated amid a spike in Covid-19 hospitalizations, as the Kremlin denied any reversal in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opposition to compulsory inoculation.

The vaccination drive will cover more than 2 million people, Deputy Mayor Anastasia Rakova said Wednesday, the state-run RIA Novosti news service reported. That’s 60% of workers at consumer-facing businesses and city employees, including health professionals and teachers, who must receive a dose of one of Russia’s domestically-developed vaccines by July 15, according to an order from Moscow’s public-health office published Wednesday.

“If you work in an organization that serves an indefinite circle of people, during an epidemic it is definitely not only your own business,” Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote on his blog announcing the measures. “We are simply obliged to do everything to carry out mass vaccinations in the shortest possible time.”

Officials have lamented the slow progress of the vaccine campaign, and the new order may double the number of people vaccinated in Moscow. While the capital doesn’t regularly disclose usage statistics, on May 21 Sobyanin said 1.3 million people in the capital had received at least one shot.

The order, and a similar one in the Moscow region, covers Russia’s biggest metropolitan area that is home to about 20 million. Putin told investors earlier this month at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that Russia had coped with the pandemic better than many other countries and “we will not force anyone” to get vaccinated.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no compulsory vaccinations are planned, RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.

Cases Surge

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Russian capital has soared this month as the highly-contagious delta variant first identified in India spreads, with daily infections nearing December highs.

Sobyanin, who called the vaccination decision “difficult but necessary,” restored sweeping restrictions in the capital this week after announcing that city hospitals were re-converting thousands of beds to deal with the surge in infections.

Moscow Orders Mandatory Covid Vaccinations as Hospitals Strain

Hospitalizations were up more than 70% over the last week and at that rate Moscow could run out of beds to treat Covid-19 within two to three weeks, Rakova said, according to RIA Novosti.

Moscow has also resorted to incentives to encourage vaccination, offering people a chance to win a free car if they begin the process. Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state-funded RT, said on her Telegram account that the network will give all employees who are vaccinated or get their first dose by July 10 a 57,500 ruble ($800) payment.

Cases are rising nationwide, in part because only about 12% of Russians have been inoculated amid public skepticism of the locally-developed vaccines.

Last month, Yakutia in Russia’s Far East was the first region to order workers to get vaccinated, with employers facing fines if they didn’t ensure compliance.

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