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Russia passes 3 million virus cases, approves Sputnik V vaccine for over 60s

Moscow continues to resist imposing lockdown; excess death rates suggest true toll of the pandemic is far higher than authorities will admit

Medical workers are seen in a passageway between the buildings of a hospital in Kommunarka, where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease are treated, on the outskirts of Moscow on December 25, 2020. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP)
Medical workers are seen in a passageway between the buildings of a hospital in Kommunarka, where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease are treated, on the outskirts of Moscow on December 25, 2020. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP)

MOSCOW — Russia on Saturday passed three million confirmed coronavirus infections, as authorities hold out against reimposing a national lockdown while the country is battered by a second wave.

Looking to protect a suffering economy, Moscow has so far refused to order a new nationwide lockdown, aiming instead to protect people with mass vaccinations using its homegrown Sputnik V shot.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on public TV Saturday that the vaccine is “safe and effective” for general use, authorizing it to be given to the over 60s.

Official figures on Saturday showed that a total of 3,021,964 cases have been detected, with 54,226 deaths.

A nurse wearing a face mask proceeds to a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) by Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine at a clinic in Moscow on December 5, 2020 (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

In the past 24 hours, 29,258 new infections and 567 deaths were registered in Russia, fourth on the list of hardest-hit countries worldwide.

Since winter began, each week has brought new records for new cases and deaths, with epicenters in capital Moscow and second-largest city Saint Petersburg.

Poorer regions of the country, often less well-equipped with medical facilities, also report a troubling picture.

Commuters, some wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus disease, ride in a metro train decorated with Christmas lights in Moscow on December 25, 2020. (Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

Nevertheless, official figures point to a lower death rate from the virus in Russia than in western Europe or the United States, something President Vladimir Putin has boasted about for months.

Putin said last week at an annual press conference that Russia had done a “better” job managing the pandemic than Western countries.

Grave diggers carry the coffin of a COVID-19 victim in section of cemetery reserved for virus victims in Kolpino, outside St.Petersburg, Russia, Dec. 15, 2020 (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

But Russian authorities only count as COVID-19 deaths those where an autopsy confirms the virus was the main cause.

Statistics agency Rosstat in October recorded 50,000 more deaths than in the same month last year.

And between March and October, there were 165,000 excess deaths compared with the same period in 2019, suggesting the true toll of the pandemic is far higher than authorities will admit.

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