Moscow ramps up COVID hospitals to handle ‘big second wave’

A security guard wearing a protective face mask looks on in Moscow, as Russia's coronavirus case tally passed the one million

Moscow hospitals have been instructed to free up hundreds of beds for COVID-19 patients in response to a sharp acceleration in case numbers, four medical sources told us, as the city’s mayor urged workers and the elderly to stay at home.

Dozens of hospitals in the Russian capital were designated as special coronavirus centres when the pandemic struck in March but returned to treating other patients as it ebbed over the summer. Now some are reverting to COVID-only mode or partially reopening for COVID, the sources said.

“This is a really big second wave,” a medic at the Kommunarka hospital, one of Moscow’s main coronavirus centres, told us.

After the highest number of coronavirus patients since the start of the outbreak were admitted to the hospital on Thursday, it was working at 120% of normal capacity, the source said.

Across Russia, officials reported 7,212 new infections on Friday, bringing the national case total to 1,136,048 – the fourth highest in the world behind the United States, India and Brazil. In Moscow, new cases rose almost 50% overnight to 1,560 from 1,050 the previous day.

Russia lifted many of its lockdown restrictions in June and many shops, businesses and public transport in the capital of more than 12.5 million people are operating largely as normal.

On Friday, however, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin recommended that the heads of all companies in the city switch as many of their staff as possible to working from home from Monday.

TsUM, Moscow’s flagship luxury goods department store, was fined 1 million roubles ($13,000) for failing to make its visitors wear masks, the city’s coronavirus taskforce said.

It said raids to check for mandatory mask-wearing in shops were continuing and that more than 15,000 fines had been issued.

Sobyanin advised anyone with chronic health problems or those older than 65 to stay at home except in urgent circumstances. Any pension-age working Muscovites should work from home or take holiday, he said.

Another key Moscow coronavirus clinic, Hospital Number 52, was 98% full as of Thursday night, one of its employees told us, and there were no free intensive care beds.

The hospital only recently reopened one of its sections for non-coronavirus patients but was ordered to return fully to treating coronavirus by Monday.

The upsurge in Moscow has escalated since Russia reopened schools on Sept. 1. The number of new daily infections has more than doubled compared to late August.

At least two more Moscow clinics, the Inosemtsev Hospital and Hospital Number 50, are returning to treating coronavirus patients, three sources told us.

“We were ordered to reopen for coronavirus over the weekend,” a doctor at one of them said. He said other patients would still be treated there, however.

The two hospitals will offer more than 500 beds for coronavirus patients, according to a Moscow health department order seen by us.

Deputy Moscow Mayor Anastasia Rakova said the extra demand across the capital was being met by using “reserve capacities” and observation facilities not normally used to treat patients.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had no plan to reimpose severe lockdown restrictions, but urged people to “be much more careful and take care of yourself and your loved ones”.

The national coronavirus taskforce said 108 people had died across Russia in the last 24 hours, pushing the official coronavirus death toll to 20,056. Russia has the world’s 12th-highest death toll, according to the official figures.

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