Authorities in Moscow will make vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory for 60% of employees in the services sector, a decree showed, as coronavirus cases continued to tick up in the Russian capital.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the coronavirus situation in the city was developing dramatically and urged people to get vaccinated in an effort to drive down hospitalisations and deaths.

"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.

Russia reported 13,397 new Covid-19 cases today, including 5,782 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,249,990.

The government coronavirus task force said 396 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 127,576.


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The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has said Russia recorded around 270,000 deaths related to Covid-19 from April 2020 to April 2021.

Russia 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.

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

He announced last week 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 Mr 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.

US surpasses 600,000 Covid-19 deaths

The US death toll from Covid-19 has surpassed 600,000, although officials hailed progress towards a return to normality as its vaccination programme promised to turn the page on one of the worst health crises in US
history.

The United States has racked up by far the largest national death toll - ahead of Brazil and India - after a heavily criticised early response to the pandemic, but has since organised among the world's most effective immunisation drives.

Memorials hang from the front gate of a cemetery in New York to remember those who died of Covid-19

Progress against the coronavirus was underlined as New York announced more than 70% of adults had received at least one vaccine dose and the last of the state's restrictions could be lifted.

"There's still too many lives being lost," President Joe Biden said, noting that despite the daily number of dead dropping sharply, the continuing loss of life was still "a real tragedy".

"My heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one," he said, speaking in Brussels yesterday.

Mr Biden has set 4 July as the target date for 70% of US adults to have received at least one dose, but several states in the south are lagging far behind and the country might miss that goal.

In New York city, where more than 33,000 died from Covid, life took a major step forward as almost all restrictions were lifted.

"We have hit 70% vaccination," Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

"It is the national goal, and we hit it ahead of schedule. What does 70% mean? It means that we can now return to life as we know it."

California, which was the first US state to enact a stay-at-home order just under 15 months ago, also celebrated its "reopening day" yesterday by lifting almost all pandemic-related social distancing and capacity limits.

Vaccinated people will be free to ditch their masks in nearly all of the nation's richest and most populous state, though exceptions will remain for locations including public transport, schools and hospitals.

Whether the vaccination programme succeeds in ending the US's chapter of the pandemic will depend on authorities' ability to reach vaccine holdouts, who remain the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Experts are particularly worried about the rise of the Delta variant, first identified in India.

The US campaign has been pushed hard since the authorisation of the first vaccines in December, and peaked in April, with up to more than four million shots a day. But the pace has slowed rapidly since then.

Just over 52% of the US population, or 174 million people, have received at least one dose of one of the three vaccines authorised in the country, according to official data.

The US passed the 500,000 death mark at the end of February, just under four months ago. By comparison, it had only taken one month for the country to go from 400,000 to 500,000 deaths.

Experts are concerned about the rise of the Delta variant, which now accounts for 10% of US cases and is likely to become the dominant strain in the coming months, according to experts.

Sydney records first local Covid-19 case in more than a month

Australia's most populous city Sydney has recorded its first locally acquired case of Covid-19 in more than a month, raising concerns of a fresh wave of infections.

New South Wales (NSW) state said it is not clear how the unnamed man in his 60s acquired the virus, but he was a driver who occasionally transported overseas airline crew.

While authorities urgently try and determine the source of the infection, NSW warned the man went to the cinema and more than a dozen cafes and shops in Sydney's eastern suburbs, which include Bondi Beach, while potentially infectious.

The emergence of a case in NSW comes as Australia's second most populous state battles to contain a cluster of cases.

Victoria state recorded five Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, though all linked to known cases, but authorities said it will ease restrictions on the 5 million residents of Melbourne.

From Friday, anyone in Melbourne will be allowed to travel more than 25km from their home, while mandatory masks wearing outdoors will end.

Melbourne exited a two-week hard lockdown late last week, its fourth since the pandemic began, after an outbreak that has seen about 100 cases since 24 May.

UK to make vaccine mandatory for care home staff - reports

British government ministers are reportedly preparing to announce that care home workers will be required to have mandatory coronavirus vaccines.

The government has held a consultation into the controversial proposal as a measure to protect the most vulnerable from contracting Covid-19.

Officials at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) did not deny a report by the Guardian saying that ministers will approve the measure for social care workers in England.

Under the plans, staff working with adults will be given 16 weeks to get vaccinated or face losing their jobs, according to the newspaper.

A DHSC spokeswoman said: "Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic and have already saved thousands of lives - with millions of health and care staff vaccinated.

"Our priority is to make sure people in care homes are protected and we launched the consultation to get views on whether and how the government might take forward a new requirement for adult care home providers, looking after older people, to only deploy staff who have had a Covid-19 vaccination or have an appropriate exemption."

She added that the department's response to the consultation will be published "in due course".

Multiple care groups and unions have raised concerns about mandatory vaccination.

Critics of the proposal have raised ethical queries and have warned that compulsion could harden opposition in those who are hesitant to be vaccinated.

Taj Mahal reopens as India eases pandemic restrictions

The Taj Mahal reopened to visitors today, as Indian authorities loosened restrictions following an easing in the country's devastating recent coronavirus surge.

Tourists return at Taj Mahal

Infections and deaths soared to record levels in April and May, overwhelming health services in some places and prompting lockdowns and other curbs.

Cases have declined in recent weeks, with several major cities including New Delhi and Mumbai easing many restrictions.

In Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, tourist guides and shopkeepers were upbeat as India's top tourist attraction sprung back to life today.

The 17th-century monument of love built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan was shut in March last year, reopened in September and closed again in April.

Crowds were thin on the first day of the reopening, with authorities restricting visitor numbers to 650 per day.

Covid-19 precautions meant visitors were not allowed to touch the shining marble mausoleum, but those making the pilgrimage to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World were still delighted.

"I am very glad I got to see it, it is amazing," gushed Brazilian visitor Melissa Dalla Rosa, 40.

"I cried when I first saw, oh my God... (it was) a very special experience," she told AFP.

Japan weighing 10,000-spectator cap ahead of Olympics

Japan could allow up to 10,000 fans at sports events ahead of the Olympics, media have reported, as organisers weigh how many domestic fans can attend the games.

The measure, intended to come into force after a coronavirus state of emergency ends on 20 June, will be discussed by the government's virus taskforce today, the Nikkei business daily and Kyodo news agency said.

The plan would limit spectators to 50% of a venue's capacity or 10,000 people, whichever is lower.

Tokyo's Olympic stadium

It could set the boundaries for a decision by Olympic organisers on how many domestic fans, if any, can attend Games events. Overseas spectators have already been banned.

The Olympic decision is expected only after the virus emergency in Tokyo ends on 20 June and the government clarifies what measures will replace it.

Recent reports have said the government could introduce "quasi-emergency" measures including restrictions on the sale of alcohol or limited opening hours for bars and restaurants.

Experts and officials have expressed concerns that huge crowds attending the games could accelerate virus infections after the emergency ends.