MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government and the United Russia political party leadership via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence yesterday. – AFP

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin will self-isolate after coronavirus cases were detected in his inner circle, the Kremlin said yesterday, as Russia struggles with stubbornly high COVID infection rates. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin was “absolutely healthy” and had taken a coronavirus test, without specifying the result. Putin had been due to travel to Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe for a regional summit later this week but in a call with President Emomali Rakhmon said he would not be able to attend in person.

“Putin said that in connection with identified coronavirus cases in his circle, he will observe a self-isolation regime for a certain period of time,” the Kremlin said in a statement. Russian authorities have taken exceptional measures to protect Putin-who has been vaccinated with Russia’s homegrown Sputnik V jab-since the start of the pandemic. Foreign leaders, journalists and officials have all been required to self-isolate in advance of being in contact with the longtime Russian leader.

Putin on Monday met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and with Russian athletes returning from the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Russia is among the countries hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic-with the fifth-highest number of recorded cases according to an AFP tally-and has struggled to rein in infections despite easy access to vaccines. As of yesterday the country had recorded 7,176,085 cases and 194,249 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe.

Vaccine-sceptic population
Infections have been falling in recent days after a spike in August, but health officials still reported 17,837 new cases and 781 new deaths yesterday. Authorities have struggled with a vaccine-sceptic population, with independent polls showing that a majority of Russians do not plan to be inoculated.

As of yesterday, about 39.9 million of Russia’s 146 million people had been fully vaccinated, according to the Gogov website, which tallies COVID data from the regions. Russia has several homegrown vaccines freely available to the public, but does not distribute any Western-made jabs. Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s outbreak, and a host of regions have introduced mandatory vaccination measures to speed up the inoculation drive, and Putin has repeatedly called on Russians to get vaccinated.

The Kremlin initially set a goal of fully inoculating 60 percent of Russia’s population by September, but later dropped that target even though free jabs have been available since early December. Russian authorities have been accused of vastly downplaying the effects of the pandemic and, after a tight first lockdown in 2020, have refrained from introducing restrictive new measures. The country instead pinned its hopes of curtailing the pandemic on its four homegrown vaccines-Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona, CoviVac and the one-dose Sputnik Light. – AFP