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Health

Moscow turns ice rink into hospital as Russia's COVID-19 cases hit record

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia reported a record 22,778 new daily coronavirus cases on Monday as the authorities in Moscow turned to a temporary hospital built inside an ice rink to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients.

The country of about 145 million people has started opening temporary clinics and re-purposing hospitals in the capital and other cities to relieve the strain on its medical system.

In Moscow, the Krylatskoe Ice Palace, known for hosting international speed skating competitions, is now on the frontline after being converted into a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients. It opened last month.

Though better resourced than other regions, authorities in Moscow are under severe pressure. They reported 6,360 new infections in the Russian capital on Monday.

More than 1,300 hospital beds equipped with oxygen tanks cover the former ice rink’s 400-metre speed skating track, with more than 100 doctors and nurses deployed.

“Only its design differentiates it from a regular hospital,” Chief Doctor Andrei Shkoda told Reuters, wearing a medical mask and laboratory coat.

The facility, he said, is equipped with all necessary equipment to treat and diagnose the illness, including a CT scanner. It is currently treating about 600 people, with between 60 to 80 new patients being admitted and released every day.

“We prepared very well, which wasn’t the case in the spring (at the start of the pandemic),” Shkoda said. “Since then, we have prepared clinical protocols, gained experience in the fight against the coronavirus...”

Despite a recent surge in cases, Russian authorities have resisted imposing lockdown restrictions across the country as they did earlier this year, stressing instead the importance of hygiene, social distancing and imposing targeted measures in certain regions.

Authorities in the Siberian region of Buryatia, which borders Mongolia, on Monday closed restaurants, shopping malls, bars and public facilities for two weeks in a bid to stem the virus.

The region, which recorded 271 new cases in the last 24 hours, is the first in Russia to impose harsh restrictions in response to the pandemic’s second wave.

“The number of patients is not decreasing,” Alexei Tsydenov, the regional governor, said in a video address. “There is a shortage of medicine in the pharmacy network. More and more hospital beds are needed every day.”

With 1,948,603 infections since the start of the pandemic, Russia has the fifth largest number of cases in the world behind the United States, India, Brazil and France.

Russian authorities reported 303 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the national death toll to 33,489.

Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mike Collett-White

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