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Russia identifies new coronavirus variant as Moscow tightens restrictions amid record cases, deaths

Hospital doctors and nurses. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia has reported some COVID-19 infections with a new coronavirus variant believed to be even more contagious than the Delta one amid a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths that has pushed Moscow’s authorities to reimpose lockdown measures.

It is possible that the AY.4.2 variant will spread widely, Kamil Khafizov, a senior researcher at Russia’s health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said on October 21, according to local news agencies.

The new variant could spur a jump in the rate of new COVID-19 cases and could even replace the Delta variant eventually, although the process is likely to be slow, Khafizov said.

Khafizov’s warning comes on the same say that a government task force reported 1,036 COVID-19-related deaths over the previous day, the highest number since the start of the pandemic, as well as a record number of daily infections — 36,339.

Russia has by far the largest official death toll in Europe — 227,389 — and the fourth highest in the world.

The surge in coronavirus cases and deaths in recent weeks prompted Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to announce on October 21 the reintroduction of lockdown measures between October 28 and November 7 — with all shops, bars, and restaurants due to close, except those selling essential goods.

The move comes a day after President Vladimir Putin announce a nationwide week of “nonworking” starting on October 30.

In neighboring Ukraine, where a weeks-long wave of infections continues to grow despite the adoption of tighter lockdown measures last month, heath authorities also posted a new record for daily coronavirus cases and COVID-19 deaths.

The Health Ministry said that 22,415 new coronavirus cases were registered over the past 24 hours, topping the previous high of 20,341 cases seen on April 3.

The total number of deaths over the previous 24 hours was also a record, hitting 546. Overall, some 62,000 people have died from the illness in Ukraine, which has a population of 41 million.

Ukrainian authorities began tightening COVID measures last month and have announced further restrictions in recent days in what they call an “adaptive quarantine” system.

Lawmakers also have extended a state of emergency that allows authorities to impose such curbs until the end of the year.