Mayor of Moscow issues warning amid rapid spread of new variant

Mayor of Moscow issues warning amid rapid spread of new variant
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The mayor of Moscow on Thursday warned that a new coronavirus variant is hitting the Russian city hard as government officials complain of a relatively slow vaccine rollout. 

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that new infections could reach higher than 9,000 on Friday, which would make it the highest recorded number of cases in Moscow in a single day since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Reuters

The Russian capital, which has a population of roughly 12 million residents, reported 7,704 new infections on Sunday alone, the most recorded in a single day in the city since December. 

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During a meeting with Moscow restaurant executives, Sobyanin said, "A new mutation has arrived, a new strain is active.” 

"It's more aggressive, it's harder to recover from, it spreads faster. It's much more likely to penetrate a person's immune system," he added, according to the RIA news agency. 

While Sobyanin did not specify which variant he was referring to, the head of the Russian consumer health watchdog said at a meeting Thursday that the delta coronavirus variant first identified in India was responsible for a rising number of new COVID-19 cases across Russia. Sobyanin was also at this Thursday meeting, which was broadcast on television. 

According to Reuters, Sobyanin said Moscow was expanding its number of hospital beds should local medical centers become overwhelmed amid the new wave of infections. 

"This dynamic is fairly unexpected given that more than 60 percent of Muscovites have either already been ill or been vaccinated — it is a large segment of the population,” he said, according to Reuters. “We, of course, did not expect an increase [in cases], but a decrease.” 

The warnings come a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) said the delta variant, which has been labeled as a “variant of concern” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has now been identified in more than 80 countries.

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The delta strain is believed to be roughly 60 percent more contagious than the original strain, and now accounts for 10 percent of all coronavirus infections in the U.S.

Sobyanin last week vocalized concerns on the low rate of vaccinations in Moscow in May, largely due to widespread vaccine hesitancy. 

"We continue getting sick, people keep dying, but they don't want to get vaccinated," Sobyanin said, noting that "the percentage of those vaccinated in Moscow is lower than in any European city."

As of Thursday, Russia has had a total of more than 5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 127,992 deaths, according to data from the WHO

The WHO reported that nearly 33 million vaccine doses have been administered thus far to the country’s roughly 146 million people.