Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an annual televised phone-in with the country’s citizens dubbed “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin” at the Moscow’s World Trade Center studio in Moscow on 30 June 2021/AFP

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he opposed introducing mandatory vaccinations in Russia despite a surge in coronavirus infections in the country and sluggish inoculation rates.

“I do not support mandatory vaccinations,” Putin told Russians during his annual phone-in broadcast on television.

Asked if he supported a new nationwide lockdown, he said regional authorities were instead promoting localised mandatory vaccinations and other measures to avoid introducing new quarantines.

Russia earlier Wednesday reported 669 coronavirus deaths over the past 24 hours, a record number of fatalities for the second day in a row, according to a government tally.

The country is grappling with a spike of infections spurred by the highly infectious Delta variant, with authorities struggling to convince Russians to get vaccinated.

One of the pandemic hotspots is the city of Saint Petersburg, which is due to host a Euro 2020 quarter-final on Friday in front of thousands of fans, many of them flying in from abroad for the match.

Putin said Wednesday that some 23 million Russians had received the jab and said the country’s homegrown vaccines were better than foreign alternatives, naming AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

“We are doing fine,” he said.

The 68-year-old leader also addressed widespread vaccine scepticism in the country and urged Russians to listen to “specialists”.

“It is necessary to listen, not to people who understand little about this and spread rumours, but to specialists,” he told Russians, the majority of whom polls show oppose receiving coronavirus jabs.

Putin has in recent months urged Russians to get vaccinated and announced earlier this year he had got the jab, without specifying which one of the country’s four vaccines he had received.

On Wednesday he announced he was inoculated with Sputnik V, the first vaccine registered in Russia.

Officials have been accused of underreporting fatalities, counting only cases when coronavirus was found to be the primary cause of death after autopsy.

Authorities on Tuesday reported 652 coronavirus fatalities, topping a record that was set in December last year.

— AFP

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