Russia has recorded its first cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 as the country continues to struggle under a wave of new coronavirus infections.
The Central Research Institute of Epidemiology of the state-run Rospotrebnadzor agency said on December 6 that a total of 10 cases of the Omicron variant were detected among a group of citizens who were tested after returning from South Africa or its neighbors.
"Research on other patients continues, the situation is under the special control of Rospotrebnadzor," the federal agency said.
The announcement came on the same day the coronavirus crisis center said a total of 1,184 COVID-19 deaths were recorded in the country over the previous 24 hours, the lowest one-day total in a month, but still near the record highs seen in the middle of last month.
The center added that 32,136 cases were recorded in the period, the lowest total since mid-October.
Officials have blamed the stubbornly high case loads in part on the reluctance of Russians to get vaccinated. Even though the country has several domestically produced vaccines, only about one-third of the population is vaccinated.
The country has recorded just over 9.8 million coronavirus infections and some 282,000 related deaths during the pandemic.
But critics and some health experts have accused officials of skewing the numbers to cover up a much higher death count, making the situation in hospitals even more precarious, they say.
Omicron is believed to be more infectious than its predecessors including the Delta variant, but scientists are still trying to determine how effective it is at evading vaccine protection.
The new strain has been identified in dozens of countries.