MOSCOW (AP) — More regions of Russia have made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for residents age 60 and over as the country tries to control coronavirus infections and to keep the omicron variant at bay.
Authorities in the northern region of Komi said Friday that people in that age group are required to get fully vaccinated by Feb. 1. The Omsk region in Siberia introduced a more stringent timeline Thursday that obligates those 60 and above to get their first vaccine dose by Dec. 24 and their second dose by Jan. 15.
Several other regions, including Lipetsk, Kurgan and the city of St. Petersburg, adopted similar mandates in recent weeks.
Some regions also imposed vaccine mandates for certain categories of essential workers. Russia has struggled to get cases down amid low vaccination rates and poor compliance with public health measures.
About 40% of Russia’s nearly 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, even though the country approved a domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine — Sputnik V — months before most of the world.
Two people who returned to Russia from South Africa on Friday tested positive for COVID-19 and their test samples are being studied to determine whether their infection was caused by the new omicron variant, Russian authorities said.
The two have been hospitalized, Russia’s public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said in a statement. It wasn’t immediately clear whether their condition required hospital care or they were admitted to a hospital for additional testing because of the variant.
Russia restricted entry for all foreigners traveling from countries in Southern Africa and required all Russian nationals returning from South Africa or neighboring countries as of Thursday to quarantine for 14 days because of the the omicron variant, which was first reported by scientists in South Africa.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart coronavirus vaccines.
Russia on Friday reported 32,930 new cases and 1,217 deaths. Russia’s coronavirus task force has reported a total of over 9.7 million confirmed infections and 278,857 deaths in the pandemic, by far the highest death toll in Europe.
Some experts believe the true figure is even higher. Reports by Russia’s statistical service, Rosstat, that tally coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively reveal much higher mortality. The reports say 462,000 people with COVID-19 died between April 2020 and September of this year.
Russian officials have said the task force only includes deaths for which COVID-19 was the main cause, and uses data from medical facilities. Rosstat uses wider criteria for counting virus-related deaths and takes its numbers from civil registry offices where registering a death is finalized.