MOSCOW- The mayor of Moscow said on Tuesday he was extending COVID-19 home-working rules and guidance to protect elderly people until April 1 as the city braces for a sharp rise in infections with the Omicron variant.

"Given the rapid and wide spread of Omicron, it is clear that the workload of outpatient clinics will increase sharply," Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.

"For clinics to cope with their increased work load, more doctors have been put on duty... We have a few difficult weeks ahead of us."

Moscow imposed rules from late October to the end of February requiring people over 60 to stay at home unless they were vaccinated or had recovered from COVID, and obliging businesses to move at least 30% of staff to remote work.

Sobyanin said he was extending the restrictions to April 1.

Omicron has pushed COVID-19 case figures to record highs in parts of western Europe and the United States but the variant has been slower to hit Russia, where daily COVID cases have fallen from a peak of 41,335 registered in early November.

On Tuesday it reported 31,252 new cases and 688 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

"As of this morning, there were 1,682 cases of Omicron in Russia, but we understand that there are many more," Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said at a televised meeting of the government coronavirus taskforce.

Russia's COVID death toll stands at more than 670,000, the second highest in the world behind the United States, according to Reuters calculations based on official data. The Kremlin has frequently expressed frustration at the slow uptake of the domestically made Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, and called on officials to increase inoculation rates.

(Reporting by Anton Zverev and Anastasia Teterevleva; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mark Trevelyan) ((;))