Pandemic worries Putin as Russia sends army doctors to help COVID fight in Urals

·2 min read
Russia's President Putin attends a meeting outside Moscow

Pandemic worries Putin as Russia sends army doctors to help COVID fight in Urals

Russia's President Putin attends a meeting outside Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will send army medics to a region in the Urals hit by a surge in COVID-19 cases and the government may allocate 10 billion roubles ($131 million) more in regional support as the country grapples to bring a recent surge in infections under control.

President Vladimir Putin described the situation in some regions as alarming, speaking at a meeting with senior officials on Wednesday. Hospital beds were at more than 90% capacity in 16 regions, according to Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova.

Russia has seen new coronavirus cases swell in recent weeks. Authorities reported 16,202 new infections on Wednesday, and 346 deaths, the highest daily tally recorded yet.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered assistance sent to the Kurgan region, around 1,970 km (1,220 miles) east of Moscow, the ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies, after doctors there made a public plea to Putin for help, citing critical shortages.

"A team of military medical specialists will be sent there to provide advisory assistance and treatment of coronavirus patients in the region's medical institutions," the ministry said.

However, in Moscow, Russia's worst affected area, new cases fell to their lowest since Oct. 8, with 3,760 infections recorded, and authorities extended restrictions on remote working and online learning for secondary school students.

"There is no need to introduce new restrictions today," said Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. "But at the same time, it is premature to soften existing restrictions, as they could lead to destabilisation of the situation."

Other areas in Russia are also under severe strain, according to local media reports. Two ambulances had brought patients to the local health ministry in the Siberian city of Omsk after finding all hospitals full, local news website said on Tuesday, leading Health Minister Mikhail Murashko to order checks there.

During a meeting with Putin, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said there were sufficient funds to send 10 billion roubles to suffering regions and that the government would make a decision on Thursday.

Russia in August became the first country to grant regulatory approval for a vaccine after less than two months of human testing. Large-scale trials are now underway. Regulators approved a second vaccine earlier this month.

Russia's COVID-19 death toll stood at nearly 27,000 on Wednesday. It has reported 1,563,976 infections, the world's fourth largest number of cases after the United States, India and Brazil.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Maria Kiselyova, Darya Korsunskaya, Andrey Ostroukh and Maria Vasilyeva; writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Raissa Kasolowsky)