Putin orders Russian workers to stay home for a week as he slams his own relatives for refusing to take the covid vaccine - as the country battles record deaths amid measly 32% jab uptake
Vladimir Putin has ordered all Russian workers to stay home for a week as he slammed the public - including his own relatives - for its vaccine hesitancy.
The Kremlin reported a consecutive record daily Covid toll with 1,028 deaths on Wednesday, bringing its total fatalities to 226,353 - by far the highest in Europe.
Putin said he was backing the Cabinet's proposal to introduce a non-working period starting on October 30 and extending through the following week, when four of seven days already are state holidays.
He also tore into people for vaccine hesitancy as just 32 per cent of the population have received a dose of the vaunted Sputnik jab, which Putin previously said was as reliable as a Kalashnikov rifle.
'I don't understand what's going on,' he despaired. 'I'm judging by my family, my friends. Sometimes to be honest it feels strange.'
He did not say who in his family was refusing to be jabbed.
Putin added: 'I remember asking some of the people close to me, my group of mates: "Did you get vaccinated?"
'And they ask me back: "Did you?"
'"I'll wait until you vaccinate then."
'Fine, so I got vaccinated. Asking them again: "Did you get vaccinated?"
'"I don't know, I'll give it a bit more time."
Putin concluded: 'This is strange. They are well-educated people, with scientific degrees.
'I simply … I don't understand what's going on. We have a reliable, effective vaccine.
'And I want to say it one more time, we only have two paths … to get infected with it, or to get vaccinated. It's better to be vaccinated.'
Russia's daily coronavirus mortality numbers have been surging for weeks and topped 1,000 for the first time over the weekend amid sluggish vaccination rates, lax public attitudes toward taking precautions and the government's reluctance to toughen restrictions.
About 45 million Russians, or 32% of the country's nearly 146 million people, are fully vaccinated.
Even though Russia in August 2020 became the first country of the world to authorise a coronavirus vaccine and vaccines are plentiful, Russians have shown hesitancy about getting the shots, a scepticism blamed on conflicting signals sent by authorities.
While extolling Sputnik V and three other domestic vaccines, state-controlled media were often critical of Western-made shots, a controversial message that many saw as feeding public doubts about vaccines in general.
Until now, the Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown like the one early on in the pandemic that dealt a heavy blow to the economy and sapped Putin's popularity, empowering regional authorities across the country's 11 time zones to decide on local restrictions, depending on their situation.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who leads the government coronavirus task force, said Wednesday that the nonworking week will imply restrictions on access to restaurants, cafes, theatres, cinemas, gyms and other facilities, adding that authorities in each region will be expected to take relevant decisions.
The Cabinet has drafted compensatory measures to help absorb the shock for the business, including one-time payments equivalent to a minimum monthly pay per worker and low-interest credits.
Many of Russia's 85 regions already have restricted attendance at large public events and limited access to theatres, restaurants and other venues. Some have made vaccinations compulsory for certain public servants and people over 60.
In some regions, mounting infections forced authorities to suspend medical assistance to the population as health care facilities were forced to focus on treating coronavirus patients.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted that the situation is 'very sad,' noting that the level of vaccination in those regions was particularly low.
In Moscow, however, life has continued as usual, with restaurants and movie theatres brimming with people, crowds swarming nightclubs and karaoke bars and commuters widely ignoring mask mandates on public transportation even as ICUs have filled in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said unvaccinated people over 60 will be required to stay home. He also told businesses to keep at least a third of their employees working remotely for three months starting Oct. 25.
The government task force has registered a total of more than 8 million infections and its official COVID-19 toll ranks Russia as having the fifth-most pandemic deaths in the world behind the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.
However, state statistics agency Rosstat, which also counts deaths in which the virus wasn't considered the main cause, has reported a much higher pandemic death toll - about 418,000 people with COVID-19 as of August. Based on that number, Russia would be the fourth hardest-hit nation, ahead of Mexico.