Putin asks army to help fight COVID-19 as cases spiral

Vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium
A healthcare worker prepares a one-dose Sputnik Light vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a vaccination centre in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia July 8, 2021. A sign reads Vaccination against COVID-19. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

MOSCOW, Nov 1 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Russia may need the army's help to build field hospitals for COVID-19 patients as Russia battles a surge in infections that has led to a nationwide workplace shutdown.

"The situation in the country is very difficult," Putin said in remarks to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and other top brass. "More than 40,000 cases (a day). This has never happened.

"I ask you to... continue to provide support to the civil medical service if needed. Maybe use your construction abilities because there is a need to keep building pre-fabricated medical facilities."

Putin last month ordered a week-long nationwide workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 that could be extended by regional authorities as they saw fit.

The Novgorod region northwest of Moscow became the first on Monday to say it would prolong this for a second week.

"During that week we will tighten requirements for various workplaces. A number of organisations will be closed," regional governor Andrei Nikitin said.

The capital Moscow has imposed the strictest lockdown measures in more than a year, with only essential shops like pharmacies and supermarkets allowed to remain open. Some pubs and other businesses have ignored the curbs, however, and travel agents have reported a boom in Russians taking foreign beach breaks to escape the restrictions at home. read more

Anna Popova, head of the consumer health watchdog, told a government meeting: "The effect of the measures will not appear immediately. It will most likely require more time."

Russia has reported more than 8.5 million infections since the start of the pandemic and deaths hit new records on 21 days last month.

Some medical professionals say the country's COVID response has been handicapped by vaccine hesitancy, mixed messaging from the authorities, unreliable statistics and attempts to shift responsibility away from Moscow and on to the leaders of Russia's republics and regions. read more

Reporting by Dmitry Antonov, Olzhas Auyezov and Anton Zverev, Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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