Staunton, June 16 – Faced with a new surge in the pandemic, Moscow and several other regions have de facto made vaccinations against the coronavirus mandatory by requiring businesses to ensure that 60 percent or more of their employees be vaccinated and fining them if they don’t do so.
Their actions are deeply unpopular with the population and at odds with continuing Kremlin claims that making vaccinations mandatory is unconstitutional. Clearly, the Putin regime wants to see the pandemic end but also wants to avoid being held responsible for taking the unpopular step of requiring vaccinations.
Observers in Moscow say, however, that it is extremely unlikely officials there would have taken this step had they not had at least unspoken backing from the federal government (regnum.ru/news/3298137.html, tass.ru/obschestvo/11665943, regnum.ru/news/3297758.html, regnum.ru/news/3297657.html, rbc.ru/politics/16/06/2021/60ca14a09a794709b844b219 and sobyanin.ru/koronavirus-dopolnitelnye-mery-po-uskoreniyu-vaktsinatsii).
Moscow Oblast and Kemerovo Oblast have already followed Moscow’s course, but officials in other places, most prominently St. Petersburg, are still insisting they won’t. But opposition to obligatory vaccinations appears to be crumbling even within the central government, with election officials saying that election workers need to get vaccinated (regnum.ru/news/3298032.html and regnum.ru/news/3297625.html).
Today, Russian officials reported registering 13,397 new infections and 396 new deaths in Russia as a whole with Moscow and Moscow Oblast accounting for more than half of the new infections over the last 24 hours, as the pandemic continues to ebb and flow across the country (t.me/COVID2019_official/3074 and regnum.ru/news/society/3296191.html).
While infections are a leading indicator and deaths a lagging one, it is striking that at least according to official reports, the number of deaths from the coronavirus during the current third wave has not gone up proportionally, an indication that clinics and hospitals may be doing a better job fighting the illness in those infected.
The situation in Moscow is dire. There are already 12,000 Muscovites in hospital and officials project the city will run out of covid-dedicated beds in the next two or three weeks if the pandemic continues (regnum.ru/news/3297696.html, regnum.ru/news/3297698.html and regnum.ru/news/3298113.html), especially as only 1.8 million Muscovites have been vaccinated (regnum.ru/news/3297707.html).
According to Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, Moscow is suffering because all roads in the country lead to it and therefore its residents are constantly being reinfected by people from elsewhere (regnum.ru/news/3297696.html). He invoked that argument in making vaccination for employees mandatory, even though 41 percent of Muscovites oppose that step (regnum.ru/news/3297702.html).
Businesses are not happy about being made responsible for mandatory vaccinations or about the large fines that the city government threatens to impose if they don’t carry out its orders, but they are also worried that if the pandemic continues to spread, there may be a new lockdown that would hurt even more (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/mezhdu-dvuh-ognej-kak/).
This fear of a lockdown may explain why some Russian officials are claiming that they haven’t received any complaints about the mandatory vaccination regime from the population (business-gazeta.ru/article/512964 and regnum.ru/news/3297719.html).
Officials beyond the beltway are facing other problems. Karelia is running short of vaccine, sparking fears there that Moscow will allow the disease to ravage that republic (regnum.ru/news/3298022.html). Deputies in St. Petersburg are demanding the city resume publishing covid data, something it had suspended as the numbers got worse (regnum.ru/news/3297944.html). And Adygey officials, faced with popular anger, have promised a day off with pay to anyone who gets the shots (https://regnum.ru/news/3297648.html).
Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency has delayed giving approval to Russia’s Sputnik-5 vaccine for use in that large market but Moscow officials say they expect the EU to change its position eventually (reuters.com/world/europe/eu-approval-russias-sputnik-v-vaccine-delayed-sources-say-2021-06-16/).