The daily count of new coronavirus infections in Russia spiked above 110,000 on Saturday as the highly contagious omicron variant races through the vast country.
The state coronavirus task force reported 113,122 new infections over the past 24 hours — an all-time high and a sevenfold increase from early in the month, when daily case counts were about 15,000. The task force said 668 people died of COVID-19 in the past day, bring Russia's total fatality count for the pandemic to 330,111, by far the deadliest toll in Europe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that "it is obvious that this number is higher and possibly much higher," because "many people don’t get tested" or have no symptoms.
The Kremlin spokesman also admitted that a lot of people in the presidential administration have gotten infected with the virus. "The vast majority continue to work from home after having isolated themselves," Peskov said. "This explosive contagiousness of the omicron, it demonstrates itself in full."
Despite the surging infections, authorities have avoided imposing any major restrictions to stem the surge, saying the health system has been coping with the influx of patients.
Earlier this month, parliament indefinitely postponed introducing restrictions on the unvaccinated that would have proven unpopular among vaccine-hesitant Russians. And this week health officials cut the required isolation period for those who came in contact with COVID-19 patients from 14 days to seven without offering any explanation for the move.
Russia has had only one national lockdown, in 2020, although many Russians were ordered to stay off work for a week last October amid a jump in reported cases and deaths.
Russia’s state statistics agency, which uses broader counting criteria than the task force, puts the country's pandemic death toll much higher, saying the number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.
Just about half of Russia’s 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, even though Russia boasted about being the first country in the world to approve and roll out a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine.