Russia posts record virus deaths for third day running
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The country is battling a surging outbreak driven by the highly infectious Delta variant and worsened by a lagging jab drive, with President Vladimir Putin urging Russians on national television Wednesday to get vaccinated.
The daily death toll released Thursday topped Wednesday's record of 669 and Tuesday's of 652.
Saint Petersburg, which is due to host the Spain vs. Switzerland Euro 2020 quarter-final on Friday in front of thousands of spectators, saw the most deaths with 115.
Dozens of Finland supporters were infected in the city, where authorities have introduced minimal restrictions beyond banning food sales at fan zones, after they travelled there earlier this month for their team's loss to Belgium.
In Moscow, where the city's mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said that the Delta variant -- first identified in India -- accounts for 90 percent of cases, authorities have introduced a host of new restrictions.
Businesses have been ordered to send home 30 percent of unvaccinated employees and restaurants to only serve inside patrons who have been inoculated or infected in the past six months.
Sobyanin also earlier this month required 60 percent of the city's service industry workers to be fully inoculated by mid-August, with more than a dozen Russian regions since following his lead.
On Thursday, the Western exclave of Kaliningrad became the latest region to introduce new restrictions, barring unvaccinated tourists from taking bus tours.
Also Thursday, hotels in the Krasnodar region -- home to Russia's popular Black Sea resort city Sochi -- began accepting only vaccinated guests or those with a negative test.
The Kremlin had set a goal of fully inoculating 60 percent of Russia's population by September, but conceded earlier this week that it would not be able to meet that target even though free jabs have been available since early December.
Authorities have faced a population highly sceptical of coronavirus vaccines, in particular Russia's homegrown jabs, with independent polling showing that 60 percent do not plan on getting inoculated.
As of Thursday, just 17.4 million of Russia's population of about 146 million people -- or about 12 percent -- had been fully vaccinated, according to the Gogov website, which tallies Covid data from the regions.
But even as Russia struggles to vaccinate its population, Moscow Mayor Sobyanin on Thursday urged the city's residents who had been inoculated more than six months ago to already get a booster jab with the country's homegrown Sputnik V vaccine or the one-dose Sputnik Light.
Russia, with 135,886 deaths from the virus, has the highest official toll from Covid-19 in Europe -- even as authorities have been accused of downplaying the severity of the country's outbreak.
Under a broader definition for deaths linked to coronavirus, statistics agency Rosstat at the end of April said that Russia has seen at least 270,000 fatalities.