UPDATED: Russian regions run low on vaccines as COVID-19 cases jump

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A central Russian region on Saturday suspended COVID-19 vaccinations for two days due to a shortage of doses, local officials said, as the country reported its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since mid-January.

Russia is facing a surge in new cases that authorities blame on the highly infectious Delta variant and slow progress on the vaccination drive, with daily deaths hitting a record in the capital, Moscow, on Friday.

Russia reported 20,538 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,451,291.

The government coronavirus task force said 599 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 133,282.

The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has said Russia recorded around 270,000 deaths related to COVID-19 from April 2020 to April 2021.

Following shortages that suspended inoculation campaigns from Friday at some centres in the Bashkiria and Khabarovsk regions, health officials in the central Udmurtia region said vaccinations would stop until Monday due to a supply crunch.

The Kremlin said the issue would be resolved in the coming days, and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced additional health spending of 25 billion roubles ($347 million) for the care of COVID-19 patients.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said cases of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, were on the increase in the city.

“To drastically solve the issues, you need people to get vaccinated or head to lockdowns and shut down everything,” he told state TV.

Earlier this month, authorities in Moscow and several other regions made vaccination mandatory for people working in jobs involving close contact with the public – from hairdressers and taxi drivers to bank tellers and teachers.

With a parliamentary election due in September, Russia’s communist party held a protest against compulsory vaccination in central Moscow on Saturday. Several dozen people took part in the rally before being dispersed by police.

So far, 21 million of Russia’s 144 million people have received at least one vaccine dose, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Friday.

Russia reported 21,665 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, more than a third of them in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to nearly 5.5 million.

The government’s coronavirus task force said 619 people had died of COVID-19-linked causes in the past 24 hours, the highest number since late December.

Photo: Street actor wearing protective face mask and costume of the Tsar Peter the Great sits with the Rostral column and St. Isaac’s Cathedral in the background in St. Petersburg, Russia. EPA-EFE/ANATOLY MALTSEV