Russia is sending army medics to a region in the Urals hit by a surge in COVID-19 cases and its government may provide 10 billion rubles ($169 million Cdn) more in regional support as the country tries to bring a recent wave of 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 per cent capacity in 16 regions, according to Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova.

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

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

“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.

Last week medical professionals in Kurgan called on President Vladimir Putin to send reinforcements, citing a critical shortage of hospital space, staff and overloaded ambulances, in a letter published on local news site

WATCH | Russia’s health system strained by COVID-19 surge: 

The rapid rise of COVID-19 cases has hit Russia hard and its underfunded health-care system is showing the strain even though authorities had made a big deal about fighting the virus with high-tech surveillance measures and heavy enforcement. 2:11

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 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 rubles to suffering regions and that the government would make a decision on Thursday.

Moscow extends restrictions

In Moscow, Russia’s worst-affected area, new cases fell to their lowest since Oct. 8, with 3,760 infections recorded.

Consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said the situation there was stable and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 had levelled out at 1,100 to 1,200 a day, the Interfax news agency reported.

A shop assistant adjusts a face mask on a mannequin in Moscow on Wednesday. The city is extending remote working and online learning. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

Still, authorities there extended a remote working period for businesses until Nov. 29, as well as online learning for secondary school students until Nov. 8.

“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 destabilization of the situation.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, entered self-isolation on Tuesday after contact with a person who has tested positive for coronavirus.

The Foreign Ministry says the 70-year-old Lavrov, who has served as the nation’s top diplomat for more than 16 years, was feeling well but will postpone his official trips and meetings.

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.

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