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Coronavirus deaths in Russia hit new record

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FILE - In this Tuesday, July 13, 2021 file photo, a medical worker prepares an injection of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in Gostiny Dvor a huge exhibition place in Moscow, Russia. The World Health Organization is still reviewing data about Russia's Sputnik V vaccine as part of hopes that it can be approved by the U.N. health agency for emergency use against coronavirus, but said Tuesday, Oct. 5 that no decision is imminent.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

MOSCOW – Russia’s daily coronavirus death toll hit a new record on Friday amid the country’s sluggish vaccination rate and the government’s reluctance to tighten restrictions.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 936 new deaths on Friday, the highest daily number since the start of the pandemic. It was a third straight day when daily COVID-19 deaths topped 900.

Russia already has Europe’s highest death toll in the pandemic — more than 214,000 — and the authorities’ conservative way of recording COVID-19 fatalities suggests the actual number could be even higher.

On Friday, the government’s task force reported 27,246 new confirmed cases, just slightly less than Thursday’s number of 27,550, which was the highest so far this year.

A steep rise in infections and deaths began in late September, with authorities blaming it on the low vaccination rate. Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said Friday that 47.8 million Russians, or almost 33% of Russia’s nearly 146 million people had received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine, and 42.4 million, or about 29%, were fully vaccinated.

The Kremlin has shrugged off the idea of imposing a new nationwide lockdown, delegating the power to tighten restrictions to regional authorities.

In some areas of the country, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, life remains largely normal, with businesses operating as usual and mask mandates loosely enforced.

Some regions have limited attendance at large public events and restricted access to theaters, restaurants and other places to people who have been vaccinated, recently recovered from COVID-19 or tested negative in the previous 72 hours. Critics argue, however, that these measures aren’t enough to stem the surge.

In some areas, Russia’s massive yet severely underfunded health care system has started to show signs of being overwhelmed by the outbreak.

Overall, Russia’s coronavirus task force has registered over 7.7 million confirmed cases and 214,485 deaths. However, reports by Russia’s state statistical service Rosstat that tally coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively reveal significantly higher mortality numbers.

Rosstat on Friday revealed the latest coronavirus mortality data that showed more than 254,000 deaths of people with COVID-19 in the first eight months of this year compared to over 163,000 deaths of patients who had the coronavirus for the whole of 2020.

Unlike the coronavirus task force that only counts deaths of patients where the coronavirus was considered the main cause, Rosstat also tallies those who had COVID-19 but died of other causes, and those for whom the coronavirus was suspected but not confirmed.

The agency said that the overall number of deaths in Russia from January until August topped 1.5 million, rising by 18.5% over year.

Russia’s population shrunk by more than 351,000 in the first seven months of the year and stood at about 145.8 million as of Aug. 1, according to Rosstat.

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