MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday inaugurated a pharmaceutical plant in Siberia that will manufacture drugs to treat COVID-19 as the country reported record high numbers of new coronavirus infections and deaths. Russia has experienced a surge in infections since September, but authorities have resisted imposing lockdowns, relying instead on targeted measures in certain regions. Speaking at the inauguration via video link, Putin said the plant would produce COVID-19 drugs, as well as medicine used to treat tuberculosis, diabetes, hepatitis and other diseases. "People need these drugs," he said. "They need them literally every day." Russia reported a record high of 25,487 new coronavirus infections on Thursday and 524 deaths in the last 24 hours, the highest numbers it has reported since the start of the pandemic. Roszdravnadzor, the healthcare watchdog, said on Thursday that some regions in the country of around 145 million were running out of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, the TASS and RIA news agencies reported. Authorities in Moscow, which reported 6,075 new cases on Thursday, extended a recommended self-isolation period for residents over 65 and those in high-risk groups until Jan. 15. Companies that had been ordered to have at least 30% of their staff work remotely must continue doing so until mid-January, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. Sobyanin said the city's healthcare system was under pressure but still able to sustain an influx of COVID-19 patients. "Experts believe that in these conditions there is no need to introduce additional restrictions, but lifting the ones that are already in place would be premature and a reckless decision," Sobyanin wrote on his website. With 2,187,990 infections, Russia currently has the fourth-largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world behind the United States, India and Brazil. Russia said on Thursday it had recorded 38,062 deaths related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Russia says its Sputnik V vaccine is 92% effective at protecting people from COVID-19, according to interim trial results, as Moscow rushes to keep pace with Western drugmakers in the race for a shot. REUTERS
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