Russia shortens COVID-19 isolation to 7 days as cases surge

FILE - People eat their takeaway food sitting outside a cafe that is closed due to coronavirus in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Russia is shortening the required isolation period for people infected with COVID-19 from 14 to seven days. The decision was announced Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022 as Russia faces a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
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By DASHA LITVINOVA Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities are shortening the required isolation period for people infected with COVID-19 from 14 to seven days as the country faces another surge of COVID-19 cases, this time driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who runs the country’s coronavirus task force, said Tuesday that health officials were “optimizing our approaches to quarantine and testing of our citizens, including shortening the quarantine period to seven days.”

Golikova added that other policy changes will be adopted in the coming days, without elaborating. She also didn’t explain the rationale for cutting the isolation period. Earlier rules required a two-week isolation period for those who test positive, with a mandatory follow-up test on day 11.

Russia already has by far Europe’s worst death toll in the pandemic at over 322,000 deaths by its official tally, a number that other statistics suggest is a significant undercount.

The daily number of coronavirus infections confirmed in Russia has doubled over the past week, going from over 15,000 on Jan. 10 to 31,252 on Tuesday. Officials say the surge could end up as the country’s biggest yet but so far haven’t announced any major restrictions to stem it.

Anna Popova, the head of Russian public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said last week that new daily cases might reach six figures. President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia has “a couple of weeks” to prepare for the unprecedented wave.

Golikova said Tuesday that 1,682 omicron cases have been officially confirmed in Russia so far, but the actual number is much higher. The new variant is already dominating in Moscow, the outlying region and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, she said.

Rospotrebnadzor said a total of 1,241 omicron cases have been registered in Moscow as of Tuesday.

The recent surge of infections hasn’t so far led to a spike in hospitalizations, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin noted Tuesday.

“So far we are not seeing the same proportion of severe cases as with delta,” Mishustin said, adding “we need to be prepared for any course of events.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that authorities were not discussing another nationwide lockdown.

Russia had only one national lockdown, in 2020, although many Russians were ordered to stay off work for a week in October 2021 amid a jump in reported cases and deaths. On Friday, the government decided to indefinitely postpone introducing restrictions for unvaccinated people, which would have been extremely unpopular among vaccine-hesitant Russians.

Just about half of Russia’s population of 146 million has been fully vaccinated, even though Russia boasted about being the first country in the world to approve and roll out a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine.

In Moscow, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin extended his orders obligating companies to keep at least 30% of staff working from home and people older than 60 to stay at home until April 1, but said at this point there was no need for any additional restrictions

The Russian capital on Tuesday reported 8,342 new infections, more than twice the figure just a week ago.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force has registered over 10.8 million confirmed infections and 322,678 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Russia’s state statistics agency, which uses 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.