Healthcare professionals, wearing special protective gear, continue their mission for Covid-19 patients in Moscow, Russia, on June 13, 2021. The death toll has reached 126,430. Photo: AFP / Sefa Karacan / Anadolu Agency

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin on Wednesday ordered mandatory vaccinations for residents of the Russian capital working in the service industry, citing a “dramatic” rise in coronavirus infections.

“We simply must do everything to carry out mass vaccinations in the shortest possible time and stop this terrible disease, stop the deaths of thousands of people,” he wrote in a blog post.

Health officials in Moscow have in recent weeks reported a steady rise in the number of new Covid-19 cases, mirroring a trend across Russia.

The country has the sixth-highest caseload in the world, but President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly claimed Russia handled the pandemic better than most other countries.

The increase in cases comes as authorities struggle to encourage Russians to get vaccinated, even though the country launched a mass campaign of free jabs in December.

Sobyanin, whose city of some 12 million is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Russia, said only 1.8 million residents had been inoculated.

“The coronavirus situation continues to unfold dramatically,” Sobyanin said, as authorities announced 5,782 new infections in the capital and 75 deaths.

“In connection with the extremely difficult epidemiological situation, the Chief State Sanitary Doctor for the city of Moscow today adopted a decree on the compulsory vaccination of workers in the service sector,” he said.

Sobyanin last week announced that all Muscovites who get their first coronavirus jab would be automatically entered into a lottery to win a car. 

Despite introducing a strict lockdown after the pandemic swept across Russia last spring, authorities lifted most restrictions by mid-summer in an effort to protect the struggling economy.

Russia started its mass vaccination campaign in December, with homegrown vaccine Sputnik V – touted by Putin as the best in the world.

Russia has since approved three more vaccines for public use: EpiVacCorona, CoviVac and the one-dose Sputnik Light.