Covid News: Moscow Orders Shutdown as Russia Battles New Wave of Cases

Workers sanitizing the Belorussky railway station in Moscow on Friday.
Credit…Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA, via Shutterstock

MOSCOW — Russian officials scrambled on Saturday to slow the spread of a new wave of the coronavirus, ordering workers in Moscow to take next week off and pleading with the populace to make use of widely available vaccines.

The biggest spike appeared to be in Moscow, the Russian capital, which reported 6,701 new cases on Saturday — more than double the rise five days ago, and the highest single-day total since December. Mayor Sergey S. Sobyanin said the situation had “sharply worsened” in the past week, and that thousands of hospital beds were being repurposed to provide care for Covid-19 patients.

“According to epidemiologists, it is now necessary to at least slow down the speed of, if not stop, the spread of the virus,” Mr. Sobyanin said on his blog.

Bars and restaurants will be required to stop serving customers at 11 p.m., food courts in shopping malls will be closed, and public playgrounds and athletic grounds will be closed, Mr. Sobyanin said. Most employers will be required to keep workers home — with pay — next week. However, Mr. Sobyanin did not impose new restrictions on indoor dining beyond the 11 p.m. cutoff, reflecting the Kremlin’s prioritization of the economy in its policies during the pandemic.

Overall, Russia reported 13,510 new cases on Saturday, the highest number since February and a 50 percent rise from a week earlier. Just as worrying to epidemiologists is that Russia’s vaccination campaign appears to be stalling. President Vladimir V. Putin said on Saturday that 18 million people had been vaccinated in the country, which is less than 13 percent of the population, even though Russia’s Sputnik V shots have been widely available for months.

“Right now, we can vaccinate everyone in Russia given the volume of vaccine being produced,” Mr. Putin said at an annual state awards ceremony at the Kremlin on Saturday, according to Interfax. “The question is that, as always — it’s a typical phenomenon here — people are cautious about all such procedures.”

The two-dose Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6 percent effective against the coronavirus, according to peer-reviewed research published in The Lancet in January. But polls show that nearly two-thirds of Russians say they do not plan to get the vaccine. Analysts attribute Russians’ hesitancy to a seemingly contradictory mix of factors: widespread distrust of the authorities on the one hand, and frequent state television reports describing the coronavirus as mostly defeated or not very dangerous on the other.

Russian officials frequently claim that the country has handled the coronavirus better than the West. There have been no large-scale lockdowns in the country since last summer. The official death toll stands at 126,073, but the unusually high number of deaths in the past year suggests that the real toll is several times higher.

Now, with Western countries emerging from lockdowns, Russia runs the risk of entering a vicious new wave of the virus. And officials are starting to acknowledge that the pandemic will not end in the country anytime soon unless the vaccination rate accelerates drastically.

“Until we have truly mass vaccination, the city will constantly be getting sick,” Mr. Sobyanin said on Saturday.

Passengers at a security checkpoint at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in April.
Credit…Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

More than two million travelers passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints on Friday, the first time since March 2020 that such a milestone had been reached, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

“The growing number of travelers demonstrates this country’s resilience and the high level of confidence in Covid-19 countermeasures,” Darby LaJoye, a T.S.A. official, said in a statement issued on Saturday. “T.S.A. stands ready to provide a safe and secure screening process as part of the overall travel experience.”

The agency screened 2,028,961 travelers on Friday, almost four times more than the 519,304 people that passed through security checkpoints a year earlier. Friday’s number is still only about 74 percent of the total on the same date in 2019, according to the T.S.A.

Air travel came close to hitting the two-million mark on the Friday before Memorial Day in May, when more than 1.95 million people went through security checkpoints, according to the T.S.A. Still, significantly more Americans preferred to travel by road for Memorial Day weekend. Before the holiday, AAA said it expected about nine out of 10 travelers would drive to their destinations.

Before the start of the pandemic, an average of about 2 million to 2.5 million travelers were screened daily by the T.S.A., according to the agency. Since the pandemic, the lowest screening volume was recorded last year on April 13, when fewer than 88,000 air travelers went through security checkpoints, the agency said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in April that fully vaccinated Americans could travel at low risk.

A vaccination center in Wuhan, China, on Wednesday. Doctors in the country say patients with the Delta variant are becoming sicker and their conditions are worsening more quickly than they did with the initial version.
Credit…Getty Images/Getty Images

As the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads in southeastern China, doctors say they are finding that the symptoms are different and more dangerous than those they saw when the initial version of the virus started spreading in late 2019 in the central
city of Wuhan.

Patients are becoming sicker and their conditions are worsening much more quickly, doctors told state-run television on Thursday and Friday. Four-fifths of symptomatic cases developed fevers, they said, although it was not clear how that compared with earlier cases. The virus concentrations that are detected in their bodies climb to levels higher than previously seen, and then decline only slowly, the doctors said.

Up to 12 percent of patients become severely or critically ill within three to four days of the onset of symptoms, said Guan Xiangdong, director of critical care medicine at Sun Yat-sen University in the city of Guangzhou, where the outbreak has been centered. In the past, the proportion had been 2 percent or 3 percent, although occasionally up to 10 percent, he said.

Doctors in Britain and Brazil have reported similar trends with the variants that circulated in those countries, but the severity of those variants has not yet been confirmed.

The testimonies from China are the latest indication of the dangers posed by Delta, which the World Health Organization last month labeled a “variant of concern.” First identified this spring in India, where it was blamed for widespread suffering and death, Delta has since become the dominant variant in Britain, where doctors suggest that it is more contagious and may infect some people who have received only one of two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

China has uniquely detailed data, however, because it has essentially universal testing in the vicinity of outbreaks, allowing officials to gather detailed information on the extent of cases.

Delta’s spread in southeastern China focuses more attention on the effectiveness of China’s self-made vaccines. The Chinese authorities have not indicated how many of the new infections have occurred in people who had been vaccinated. In some other countries where Chinese-made vaccines are in wide use, including the Seychelles and Mongolia, infections among vaccinated people are rising, although few patients have reportedly developed serious illness.

Nearby Shenzhen had a handful of cases last week of the Alpha variant, which first emerged in Britain.

As some other parts of the world still struggle to acquire and administer large numbers of coronavirus tests, southeastern China has used its…

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