By Stefan J. Bos
The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin is monitoring the spread of the new coronavirus variant closely, as thousands of Russians were already infected with what is known as the Delta variant, which was first found in India.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed the mutations on a lack of willingness among people to get vaccinated with Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. "Total nihilism, the low vaccination level was behind the surge. We also shouldn't forget the cunning of the vaccine itself," he complained.
Moscow's Mayor Sergei Sobyanin shares those concerns. He has extended restrictions he had imposed this month, including the closure of fan zones set up for the European soccer championship. Events with more than 1,000 people are banned, and there is also an 11 p.m. closing time for restaurants.
It is now also mandatory for those in public-facing work like retail, education, health care, and public transport to get vaccinated. The Moscow mayor warned that the situation in the capital, home to 13 million people, was deteriorating rapidly.
Despite these concerns, Most Russians are not standing in line to get vaccinated. Authorities say only 19.7 million people received at least the first dose of the vaccines. At one-seventh of the population, that is far less than in most Western countries.
The situation in Russia is closely followed in other European nations such as Britain, which is also coping with the new Delta variant of the coronavirus.
It wants to prevent a severe third coronavirus wave as authorities already reported some 127,000 coronavirus deaths on a population of 66-million since the outbreak began.
With the delta variant spreading, Britain extended restrictions. However, Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson publicly claims that he believes the vaccines will have an impact. "We have now done, I think 80 percent of adults in this country who have had their first jab. And we are now asking 18-year-olds to come forward. So we are making huge, huge progress," he stressed.
Back in Russia, well-connected officials and members of the wealthy business elite already secured third and fourth doses of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
The question of how long a vaccine offers protection against COVID-19 will be vital as countries gauge when or whether revaccination will be needed. Russia's findings will be closely watched in Europe and beyond.
Officially, Russia reported about 129,000 coronavirus-related deaths on a population of about 142 million.