Russia sees COVID surge linked to Delta variant and slow vaccine drive

MOSCOW, June 25 (Reuters) - Russia is facing a surge in COVID-19 cases that authorities blame on the highly infectious Delta variant and slow progress in vaccinating people, with deaths linked to the virus hitting a new record in Moscow on Friday.

Officials have scrambled to compel people to get inoculated amid tepid demand for the vaccine since cases spiked this month. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on Friday said 21 million people had been vaccinated out of a population of 144 million.

The government coronavirus task force reported 20,393 new COVID-19 cases, the most confirmed in a single day since Jan. 24, including 7,916 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,409,088.

It said 601 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, with 98 in the capital, pushing the national death toll to 132,064. St Petersburg also reported 98 deaths.

The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has said Russia recorded around 270,000 deaths related to COVID-19 from April 2020 to April 2021. read more

Moscow authorities have ordered bars and restaurants from Monday to serve people only if they can present a QR-code showing they have been vaccinated, had an infection indicating immunity or recently tested negative.

But one chain of private medical clinics, Invitro, said it was suspending antibody tests for 7 to 10 days due to a shortage of reagents, RIA reported.

Anna Popova, the head of consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said eight Russian regions would make vaccination against COVID-19 compulsory some time next week, in addition to 10 regions where that is already the case.

The local health ministry in Russia's far eastern Khabarovsk region on Friday said it had been forced to suspend vaccinations at some sites in two cities due to shortages.

The Kremlin said on Friday rising demand and storage difficulties were responsible for vaccine shortages, which would be resolved in the coming days. read more

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was planning to be vaccinated with the one-dose Sputnik Light, Russia's fourth registered vaccine against COVID-19, in the coming weeks.

Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Katya Golubkova

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