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Russian COVID-19 cases pass two million, minister urges regions to act

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s health minister urged regional leaders on Thursday to take further steps to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the country’s COVID-19 case tally passed 2 million and the number of daily deaths and infections hit new highs.

FILE PHOTO: Paramedics wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walk towards a residential building to visit a patient during their working shift amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the city of Tver, Russia May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

Despite the surge in cases, taking Russia’s overall tally to 2,015,608, authorities have resisted imposing lockdown restrictions across the country as they did earlier this year.

Instead, they have imposed strict rules for wearing masks and gloves, and underlined the importance of hygiene and social distancing. Some regions have brought in their own targeted measures.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said the heads of regions with a high incidence of infections should use their authority to improve the situation, including targeted restrictions.

“Unfortunately, not all regional heads have so far exercised this right,” he was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.

President Vladimir Putin was working almost hourly with the country’s coronavirus response teams, his spokesman said on Thursday, a day after the Kremlin chief discussed a shortage of hospital beds and ambulances with senior government officials.

“The situation with COVID is very tense,” the spokesman told reporters. “This topic is now a priority for the president.”

The coronavirus crisis response centre reported on Thursday 23,610 new infections in the previous 24 hours and 463 more deaths related to COVID-19. Russia’s death toll now stands at 34,850.

Russia, which has a huge testing programme and a population of around 145 million, has the world’s fifth largest number of cases after the United States, India, Brazil and France.

The coronavirus crisis response centre said there were 6,438 new cases in Moscow, the country’s worst affected area, where restrictions include remote learning for secondary school children and the overnight closure of bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage