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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Deaths related to COVID-19 spiked in Russia’s major cities on Wednesday amid a surge in new cases that authorities have blamed on the new Delta variant, and restrictions seeking to curb the virus’ spread were strengthened.

FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist walks by an ambulance outside a hospital for patients infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia June 16, calcium citrate versus carbonate 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

Desperate to speed up Russia’s sluggish vaccination campaign, Moscow and several Russian regions have resorted to tough measures to encourage people to get shots, including threats of loss of earnings and dismissal.

Russia’s coronavirus task force reported 548 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, the most confirmed in a single day since February, with 88 in Moscow and 93 in St Petersburg respectively, a record in both cities.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said 90% of newly detected cases were being registered as the more contagious Delta variant and that Moscow’s healthcare system was now operating “close to its capacity”.

This week Sobyanin ordered bars and restaurants in the capital to serve people only if they have been vaccinated or have had an infection indicating immunity. Unvaccinated people are to be refused non-emergency hospital treatment.

People will be required to present a QR-code showing they have either been vaccinated, had a confirmed COVID-19 infection within the past six months, or tested negative within the last three days.

The use of QR-codes could be extended to public transport in the Moscow region from July, TASS reported.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova urged other regions to follow Moscow’s lead in banning mass events with more than 500 people, RIA news agency reported.

St Petersburg is hosting a Euro 2020 soccer championship match later on Wednesday and is due to stage a quarter final on July 2, with 50% capacity allowed in a stadium that would usually hold 68,000 people.

The authorities’ inoculation push has spawned a thriving black market in fake vaccination certificates.

Internet giant Yandex on Wednesday said it was organising vaccination for its delivery drivers and couriers at seven sites around Moscow.

Russia reported 17,594 new infections on Wednesday.

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