Putin Defends Enforced Covid Jabs as Pandemic Deaths Hit Record

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President Vladimir Putin said he backs measures by Moscow and other regions to pressure people into vaccinating as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads in Russia.

“The actions of our colleagues in 10 regions are aimed at avoiding the need for a national lockdown,” Putin said in his annual televised “Direct Line” phone-in on Wednesday, a stark contrast to his message at a flagship economic forum this month that Russia is doing better than many countries in fighting the pandemic.

Putin also disclosed for the first time that he was inoculated with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine earlier this year, having previously refused to say which shot he took.

He spoke as Russia reported a record-high number of deaths from coronavirus in the past day amid a resurgence in infections that has strained hospitals and pushed daily new cases above 20,000, the most since January.

While Putin has ruled out mandatory vaccination, he’s left it to local officials to impose orders requiring millions of state employees and workers in consumer-facing businesses to get inoculated. Even so, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted this week that Russia won’t meet a goal for 60% of the population to be vaccinated by the fall.

Putin Defends Enforced Covid Jabs as Pandemic Deaths Hit Record

Despite Russia being among the first countries to announce mass vaccination, only about 16% have had at least one dose so far amid widespread public skepticism toward its four domestically-produced vaccines. That compares to half of European Union residents, 54% in the U.S. and two-thirds in the U.K.

Moscow and other regions have started imposing strict rules to pressure people to take the shots. The Russian capital on Monday began requiring residents to show a QR code proving they’ve had a vaccine or recovered from the virus to enter bars and restaurants. A top official said a day later the city may extend the system to shops, entertainment venues and public transport.

State television reported that Russians submitted 2 million questions ahead of the hours-long show, which has been a fixture of Putin’s presidency since 2001. The subjects usually focus on domestic issues, allowing him to demonstrate that he remains engaged with local concerns. The call-in often features a mix of complaints against regional officials and, in a tradition dating back to the czars, appeals from residents for the leader to resolve longstanding problems.

It comes amid concerns the third wave of Covid-19 infections may undermine Russia’s economic recovery and over a surge in inflation, which continues to worry the central bank despite 125 basis points of rate increases since March.

Russia will hold parliamentary elections in September, with the ruling party’s popularity at 27%, the lowest since 2013, according to the latest poll by the independent Levada Center.

Putin is likely also to field questions about relations with the West after this month’s summit with U.S. President Joe Biden aimed at defusing the worst tensions in years and a naval stand-off with a British destroyer in the Black Sea last week.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hit out at the U.S. and its allies in a newspaper article Monday, for what he said were continuing efforts to dictate to Russia. He vowed there’d be no “unilateral concessions” from Moscow to try to improve ties.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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