Putin says Russia set for new virus surge

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President Vladimir Putin says Russia is facing a new surge of coronavirus infections because of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

"It's obvious that we are in a very difficult situation today, in a situation on the verge of possible new surges (of the virus)," Putin said during a meeting with top government officials on Wednesday.

He called for a "mobilisation" of the country's health care system.

"We see what's happening in the world. It means we have at least a couple of weeks to prepare."

Russian officials this week have sounded the alarm about a looming COVID-19 surge, pointing to the rapid spread of Omicron and growing infection rates in some regions.

The warnings came as daily new infections in Russia started to climb, after weeks of declining following another record-breaking surge.

The Omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries.

It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous Delta variant.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Russia's state coronavirus task force reported more than 17,000 new infections, up from about 15,000 on Monday.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova told the government meeting with Putin that the number of confirmed Omicron cases in Russia stood at 698 on Wednesday, more than double the 305 reported the day before.

"We can't avoid a new epidemic surge," Golikova said, adding that the Moscow region is likely to "take the first hit."

Golikova also said the government will present additional measures to respond to the looming surge by the end of the week. She didn't offer any details about what these measures might be.

Russia this year has been reporting between 15,000 and 18,000 new infections a day, compared to December's rate of about 30,000 daily cases. The country's state coronavirus task force has registered over 10.6 million confirmed infections and 317,618 deaths overall.

Russia's state statistics agency, which user broader counting criteria, puts the death toll much higher, saying the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.

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