MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin wished Russians a brighter new year Thursday as he praised the nation for its courage and resilience amid the coronavirus outbreak.
In a televised address broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones, Putin said that a year ago “no one could imagine the challenges that we would face.”
Russia has recorded more than 3 million confirmed infections and over 100,000 deaths, according to government figures.
“It feels like that the past year carried a load of several years,” Putin said. “It was hard for each of us, with worries, serious material problems, anxieties and, for some, the loss of dear ones.”
He hailed Russians for meeting the virus challenge with dignity and courage and particularly praised medical workers.
Russia has faced a massive resurgence of cases in the fall, with confirmed infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring.
The spring lockdown badly bruised the economy and sparked broad discontent, denting Putin’s popularity, and authorities have avoided re-imposing it amid the new wave of infections. Officials argued that the health care system has sufficient resources to cope with the influx of patients, but medical workers reported overflowing hospitals and other signs of strain.
Russian authorities pinned their hopes on the domestically designed Sputnik V vaccine, giving it quick regulatory approval in August at a time when it had been tested on only a few dozen people.
Earlier this month, Putin ordered a “large-scale” vaccination even though Sputnik V is still undergoing advanced studies needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness.
Authorities said over 300,000 people have received the jab, and the immunization campaign has been gradually expanding to include broader categories of the population.
“I’m convinced that together we will overcome it all, return to normal life and with a renewed energy continue to solve tasks that Russia faces,” Putin said in his address.
He emphasized the need to preserve national unity but refrained from mentioning the July 1 nationwide vote that approved a set of constitutional amendments that included a provision that reset his term count to let him run again in 2024.
Nearly 78% of voters approved the changes allowing the 68-year-old Putin to seek two more six-year terms and remain in power until 2036.
Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades — longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin — said he would decide later whether to run again in 2024.
Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press