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Covid infections in the Eurasia region hit a new high

EPA-EFE/SERGEI ILNITSKY/FILE PICTURE
A Russian medical worker displays a trial vaccine against COVID-19 in a post-registration phase of the test at outpatient hospital number 68 in Moscow, Russia, September 17, 2020.

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Infections in the Eurasia region hit a new high last week, mainly driven by Ukraine and Russia, the two biggest countries, which are having their largest outbreaks so far, Chris Weafer, co-founder of Macro-Advisory in Moscow, said on November 1, adding that the situation is also problematic in Armenia, Georgia and Belarus. “The reason is partly seasonal, and also because of the greater virulence of the delta strain,” he said in a report.

He noted that Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are past the worst of their third waves. Only Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have more than 30% of the population vaccinated.

Russia started a non-working paid-leave period (31st October to November 7th nationwide, but Moscow started on October 28th), Weafer said, adding that it will only be at the end of the week that the effect in terms of new infections will start to be seen.

Infections remain at record levels. 40,402 new infections and 1,155 deaths were reported on November 1. There are no reports of major non-compliance with the new restrictions, nor any protests against the lockdown.

The Healthcare Minister said that nationwide Covid beds are about 88% full. In Moscow hospitalizations are running 10% below previous peaks, and only 2 of 5 temporary hospitals are open.

According to Weafer, Moscow may extend restrictions. “There is no news on whether the lockdown will be extended or what inevitable restrictions will remain through November. This should be announced mid-week. There are hints that a QR-code regime may be imposed, but authorities are hesitant because they feel it will have to be in place for 3-4 months to work. The Moscow region has imposed a QR-code regime,” Weafer said.

The demographic report for September showed that deaths were slightly lower than in August (they are normally seasonally higher), even though official daily deaths were higher in September. This is because the current record daily numbers are high because of more and better testing, not greater mortality. Rosstat said that 44,265 people died of coronavirus in September — double the official government figure. That brings the agency’s tally of Covid-19 deaths in Russia to nearly 450,000, the highest toll in Europe, although, on a per-capita basis, Russia is nowhere near the top of the deaths list, Weafer said.

Other Eurasia

The system is under serious pressure and Kyiv will go into lockdown in November, Weafer said, adding that thw cases are down and 40% of the population are fully vaccinated. New cases are at low levels with 25% are fully vaccinated. The fourth wave has peaked, but cases are still at a high level.

The seasonal wave was short-lived. Cases remain relatively high, and oxygen exports have been banned. Case numbers are still high.

The differences in the levels of vaccination is driven by availability and policy. The countries with high rates had vaccines available and have imposed restrictions on the unvaccinated.

Levels in the Eurasia region are low compared to Europe. “We ascribe this to low trust in the Sputnik-V vaccine and in governments in general,” Weafer said.

Most countries have implemented some variant of a rule where employees without vaccinations or prior infections are required regularly to submit a clean PCR test, generally at their own expense.

An international poll conducted by Morning Consult, compares attitudes towards anti-Covid vaccination between countries. Russia has by far the largest number who are unwilling to be vaccinated at 28%. The next highest is the US with 18%.

This number has been stable – the percentage unwilling was 30% in July, falling to 27% in August. This is within the margin of error for this sort of poll, so we see the movements as noise rather than driven by any definable factors.

There have been reports from the West that Russians’ unwillingness to be vaccinated is due to criticism of Western vaccines by Russian media. “Our sense is that Russian media has done no more than patriotic boosting of their own vaccine, rather than active criticism of foreign vaccines,” Weafer said.

The reasons given for skepticism in Russia are like those elsewhere: fear of side effects and the quick approval given to the vaccine. Russians tend to be skeptical about their own government and prefer foreign vaccines to Russian analogs.

Russia Checkup

Covid remained a major focus last week, with Russian President Vladimir Putin leading a cabinet meeting on October 25. “State media is taking a different tone, warning people of the need to get vaccinated, but there is still not the full court press that we think is needed. The President called for an order of magnitude increase in testing and vaccination. There is also a curfew on entertainment and food service from 23:00 to 06:00,” Weafer said.

In an unusual move, the President ordered Russia’s Healthcare Minister Mikhail Murashko to visit the regions. This is a sign that the Kremlin is hearing warning signs from the governors, partly because of a vaccine shortage and partly because of a need for more treatments.

Murashko said the rate of growth in new cases is slowing down. New beds have been deployed and Covid beds are filled to 88% capacity. Moscow has deployed 2 out of its 5 temporary Covid hospitals, and the Mayor says that hospitalization is about 10% lower during this wave thanks to vaccination.

About 3 million people got a first shot last week, bringing the total to 56 million. There are reports of vaccine shortages in some regions, a sign that there is demand, possibly because of the expectation that QR codes will be widely introduced after the non-working lockdown period is over, Weafer said.

Turning to the economy, he noted that consumer spending was up 13.7% on pre-pandemic levels in the week beginning October 11th. “This is stronger than expected now that the effect of the pre-election bonuses has worn off, and reflects rising wage levels, partly because of labor shortages,” he said.

Rosstat released demographic data on October 30, as always, late last Friday. These show excess deaths of 57,691 for September, slightly lower than in August, even though official daily deaths were higher in September, Weafer said, adding that the official Covid death toll is also much lower in September at 44,265, down from 49,389 in August.

He noted that the worst month was December 2020, when the official Covid death toll was 44,435, but excess deaths were 95,408. In October, the daily numbers showed 17,124 deaths.

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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