Battling mounting COVID-19 cases, Russia urged doctors who had quit earlier in the pandemic to return to their jobs on Thursday as the Health Ministry in neighboring Latvia announced that most operations had been canceled to clear beds in hospitals for coronavirus patients

Russia called on pension-age doctors who resigned earlier during the pandemic for safety reasons to go back to their jobs as the authorities reported a record one-day tally of COVID-19 cases and a record number of deaths.

The Kremlin has blamed the rising toll on Russia’s slow vaccination campaign and has appealed to people to get the shot. Take-up has been slow, with many Russians citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products.

“In a situation where infections are growing, it is necessary to continue to explain to people that they must get vaccinated,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“It is really irresponsible not to get vaccinated. It kills,” he said.

Thursday’s case tally of 31,299 new cases marked the first time Russia has officially reported more than 30,000 cases in a single day since the pandemic began.

The government taskforce reported 986 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, a record death toll for the third day in a row.

“We appeal to health workers who left medical practice at a time when there were risks to health and life to invite them to return,” Health Minister Mikhail Murashko was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency.

“Today vaccination allows us to protect lives and health,” he said.

Around a third of the population – or 43 million people – has been inoculated, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on Tuesday.

Russia was fast to develop and launch its Sputnik vaccine when the pandemic struck last year and has since approved three other vaccines too.

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