MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will fully reopen schools across the country from next week and the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak may have passed its peak, authorities said on Friday, as the national case tally passed the 3.5 million mark.
Teenage schoolchildren were switched to remote, online learning in October as part of a set of targeted restrictions to curb the spread of the virus that stopped well short of a stringent lockdown like Russia imposed in spring.
All schools are now reopening apart from 10 that have been specially quarantined, Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
Natalya Pshenichnaya, an official at the Rospotrebnadzor consumer watchdog, said the epidemic appeared to be stabilising overall despite localised discrepancies.
“We can assume that the infection peak has already passed,” she was quoted as saying by Interfax.
Authorities have detected around 1,500 mutations of the coronavirus since the pandemic began, Anna Popova, Rospotrebnadzor’s head, was quoted as saying.
Russia, which has the world’s fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases, plans to begin mass vaccinations next week.
Russia can inoculate 60% of its population this year, and the vaccination programme should be organised to help create herd immunity by autumn, Popova said, according to the TASS and Interfax news agencies.
The country has two registered vaccines and is expected to approve a third in the next few days, according to Popova.
Earlier on Friday, authorities confirmed 24,715 new infections in the last 24 hours. Officials also reported 555 new deaths, taking the official death toll to 64,495.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Frances Kerry and Giles Elgood)