MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Tuesday Russia’s healthcare system was under heavy strain as authorities reported a record 491 deaths linked to COVID-19 and infections surged.
Russia has resisted imposing national lockdown restrictions, as it did earlier this year, preferring targeted regional measures, even as thousands of cases are reported each day, with 24,326 new infections on Tuesday.
“The healthcare system is working under heavy strain, but with the exception of a few regions…the situation remains under control,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“This is an epidemiological challenge that all the world’s countries have faced,” he said. “We have not faced such challenges in either new or modern history.”
Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said the rate of infection was higher than the national average in 32 of Russia’s more than 80 regions, news agencies reported.
Russia in August became the first country to grant regulatory approval for a vaccine against COVID-19, doing so after less than two months of human testing, and large-scale trials are underway.
Regulators approved a second vaccine in October, also before a large-scale trial, known as Phase III.
Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine will cost less than $20 per person on international markets and Moscow aims to produce more than a billion doses at home and abroad next year, its backers and developers said on Tuesday.
Anna Popova, the head of consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said the virus was seasonal, most active in winter and that it could return every year.
Russia has a huge testing programme and is now carrying out four to six times more tests than it was in April, she added.
With a population of around 145 million, Russia has the world’s fifth largest number of cases at 2,138,828, after the United States, India, Brazil and France. The official nationwide death toll stands at 37,031.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Maxim Rodionov, Dmitry Antonov and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Ed Osmond)