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Covid vaccination tours? Russia is looking at travel packages to revive its tourism industry

Tourists walk along the Red Square in front of St. Basil cathedral in Moscow on November 6, 2020.

ALEXANDER NEMENOV | AFP | Getty Images

With uptake of Russia’s coronavirus shot Sputnik V sluggish among its own citizens, Russia is considering launching Covid vaccination travel packages for tourists.

Russian state news agency Tass cited one of the country’s tourism industry chiefs as saying the “vaccination tours” were ready, but that visas and entry requirements for foreign visitors were holding them up.

“The product is ready, but the issues of visa support and legal entry for foreigners wishing to receive the Russian vaccine are yet to be resolved,” Andrei Ignatyev, president of the Russian Union of Travel Industry (RUTI), told Tass.

The price of a three-week vaccine tour for foreigners will range between $1,500 to $2,500, excluding airline costs, Ignatyev added.

Vaccination tours appear to have the blessing of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) last week, Putin tasked the government with looking into the feasibility of offering paid-for Covid vaccinations to foreign visitors to Russia.

Russia is keen to revive its tourism industry as it looks to exit the Covid pandemic. Like other countries around the globe, Russia introduced entry restrictions for almost all foreigners (with exceptions for some workers) last March, bringing tourism to a halt. It has since eased entry restrictions provided that visitors present negative Covid tests before travel.

Vaccine tourism could prove popular for people in countries that have struggled to get their own immunization programs off the ground. The Times of India reported last month that a Delhi-based travel agency was offering a 24-day package tour to Russia which included two shots of the Sputnik V vaccine and a 21-day interval to allow for sight-seeing between the shots.

Slow domestic uptake

Russia was the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine — its own, Sputnik V — last August, but despite the speedy approval and rollout, uptake of the shot domestically has been sluggish.

So far, only 9% of its adult population has been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by Our World In Data, placing Russia behind Brazil, India, Turkey and Mexico in terms of vaccination progress.

Target market

In Europe, meanwhile, over 23% of adults have been fully vaccinated, according to Our World In Data. As such, Russia will look further afield for potential vaccine tourists, Ignatyev reportedly said.

“The countries of Africa and Latin America showed great interest in such a tourist product during the entire period of the vaccination campaign in Russia, the RUTI received such requests,” he added, according to Tass.

In late May, President Putin announced that Russia would not make Covid vaccines compulsory for its citizens, saying people should see the necessity of immunization on their own. He also stressed that the vaccine was safe; Sputnik V was found to be found to be 91.6% effective in preventing people from developing Covid-19, according to peer-reviewed results from its late-stage clinical trial that published in The Lancet medical journal in February.

“I would like to emphasize once again and to appeal to all our citizens: think carefully, keep in mind that the Russian vaccine — the practice has already shown that millions (of people) have used it — is currently the most reliable and the safest,” Putin said. “All conditions for vaccination have been created in our country.”

A poll by Russia’s Levada polling center published in March found that 62% of people did not want to get the vaccine, with the highest level of reluctance found among 18-to-24-year-olds.

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