Russian Emergency Situations Ministry employees disinfect Kazansky Railway Station amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in Moscow. Photo: AFP / Ilya Pitalev / Sputnik

Russia on Tuesday recorded its highest daily death toll since the outbreak of the pandemic as the country grapples with a spike in infections spurred by the highly contagious Delta variant.

An official government tally reported 652 coronavirus fatalities over the past 24 hours, topping a record that was set in December last year. 

A record-high number of daily deaths – 119 – was also reported in Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg that is due to host a Euro 2020 quarterfinal on Friday.

Some experts say that Russia vastly underreports coronavirus fatalities, counting only cases when Covid-19 was found to be the primary cause of death after the autopsy.

Nationwide infections grew by 20,616, bringing Russia’s caseload to nearly 5.5 million – the fifth highest worldwide, according to an AFP tally. 

Over the past few weeks, Saint Petersburg and the capital Moscow have been hit by a surge of infections, with authorities re-introducing virus restrictions.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said the Delta variant first identified in India accounts for 90% of cases in the capital. 

To curb the spread of infections, the mayor ordered Moscow’s businesses to send home 30% of non-vaccinated employees and restaurants to allow inside only patrons who have been inoculated or infected in the past six months.

Moscow also became the first Russian city to introduce mandatory vaccinations, requiring at least 60% of service industry workers to be fully inoculated by mid-August.

Several Russian regions followed suit, requiring certain groups of citizens to get one of Russia’s jabs, while polls show the population remains skeptical of homegrown vaccines.

Despite free jabs having been available since December, only 22.2 million out of a population of about 146 million had received at least one dose as of Monday, according to the Gogov website, which tallies Covid figures from the regions and the media.

With 134,545 deaths from the virus, Russia has the highest toll from Covid-19 in Europe – even as authorities have been accused of downplaying the severity of the country’s outbreak.

Under a broader definition for deaths linked to coronavirus, statistics agency Rosstat at the end of April said that Russia has seen at least 270,000 fatalities since the pandemic began.