Moscow locked down as coronavirus infections in Russia accelerate

Moscow locked down as coronavirus infections in Russia accelerate
The number of cases of coronavirus leaped to over 1,500 over the weekend, up by a half in two days. Two thirds of those infected with the virus live in Moscow
By bne IntelliNews March 30, 2020

Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin ordered a lockdown of the Russian capital in the evening of March 29 that is effective from Monday morning.

Self isolation is mandatory for all residents of the city, irrespective of age. Previously anyone over 65 years old was ordered to stay at home.

In measures that are tougher than those in London and Berlin Muscovites will only be only be allowed outside to shop (and only at a local store), visit a pharmacy, take the rubbish out and walk pets (but only within 100m of their residence).

Permission was also granted to travel to work, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a 10 day paid “holiday” also starting on Monday so the general population should not be going to work.

The orders represent a drastic scaling up of measures to fight the rapidly expanding spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Russia.

Having reported relatively few cases in the last two months, the infection rate has now taken off, with the tally reaching 1,534 as of March 29, a 50% growth in two days. Russia has clearly entered the exponential growth phase and the number of cases is likely to be badly under reported. Sobyanin met with Putin last week and told him that the number of cases was “much higher than the official numbers.”

Russians have not been taking the calls to social distance seriously. Following the announcement of the enforced holiday flights to the semi-tropical resort of Sochi in the south of Russia soared and hotels were inundated with bookings. The local governor reacted by banning the hotels from taking any guests, but the flight tracker Radar24 shows there is a constant stream of flights between Moscow and Sochi.

Likewise, on Sunday afternoon the Serebny Bor park on the banks of the Moskva river was packed with families BBQ in the early spring sun, oblivious to the need to avoid other people.

Video showing Muscovites gathering in Serebny Bor park to barbeque went viral on Russian social media 

Sobyanin, who has emerged as the most high profile Russian official to act to prevent the spread of the virus, also ordered anyone outside to  keep a distance of at least 1.5m away from other people.

The Moscow mayor's office will deploy a "smart monitoring" system to enforce the new rules, Sobyanin said. Several countries have tapped mobile phone networks to use smart phone GPS location services to track the movements of the people.

The Moscow City will also issue a special pass for people to get permission to leave their homes, similar to the French system. Sobyanin also said that currently there is no restrictions on entering or leaving the city. Public transportation will also remain open.

"The extremely negative turn of events that we are seeing in the largest cities in Europe and the United States has caused great concern for the lives and health of our citizens," Sobyanin wrote on his website.

But the authorities seem to be preparing for the worst. Social media posting in Moscow report seeing 200 buses with interior ministry troops parked on the MKAD ring road that encircles Moscow at the start of the weekend. The Ministry of the Interior didn't deny the reports, saying it was “routine troop movements,” but residents are anticipating a possible martial law scenario of some sort if the stay at home rules are not respected.

The Moscow City government also announced economic aid to those that are unable to work or lose their jobs as a result of the lockdown. The City will pay unemployment benefits of RUB19,500 ($250) per month.

People with mild cases of coronavirus will be treated at home and will receive anti-viral medication for free.

Russia's capital has confirmed 1,014 cases of the coronavirus so far from a total of just over 1,500 as of March 29, making it the epicenter of the pandemic within the country.