30, March 2020
Moscow on Monday imposed a lockdown in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus as Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin asked regional authorities to make similar preparations.
The enforcement of the tough new rules, which were suddenly announced by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin late Sunday, coincide with the beginning of a “non-working” week declared by President Vladimir Putin last week.
The order came days after Sobyanin, a close Putin ally, urged Muscovites to avoid public places, non-essential travel and walks due to the coronavirus epidemic – a recommendation many ignored amid a spell of unusually warm weather over the weekend.
“It is obvious that not everyone heard us,” Sobyanin wrote on his website as he announced the tighter quarantine measures, warning the authorities would steadily tighten control over compliance with the new rules.
Empty streets, strict measures
On Monday, the streets of Moscow were deserted following the closure of all non-essential shops, including restaurants and cafes, but traffic was still seen on the roads in the city centre.
“I ask regional heads to work on the introduction of quarantines similar to the one introduced in Moscow,” Prime Minister Mishustin said at a government meeting.
The new restrictions apply to all of the city’s residents, regardless of age.
Muscovites will only be allowed to leave their homes in cases of a medical emergency, to travel to jobs judged essential, and to shop for food or medicines.
People will be allowed to take out trash and walk their dogs within a 100-metre (330-foot) radius of their homes.
The new isolation rules, which will be policed by a vast system of facial-recognition cameras in Moscow, come into force as Russia closes its borders as part of increasingly stringent measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Scepticism about official data
Russia has so far got off more lightly than many European countries with nine deaths and 1,534 cases, more than 1,000 of which are in Moscow. Russia recorded 270 new coronavirus infections in the past day.
But some doctors have voiced scepticism about the accuracy of the figures given what they say has been the patchy nature and quality of testing, allegations that the authorities deny.
According to a survey by the Levada Center, only 16 percent of Russians fully trust official information about the coronavirus, while 24 percent said they did not trust it at all.
Russia has halted international flights, closed its borders, announced a non-working week from this weekend, and shuttered shops and entertainment venues in Moscow and some other regions.
The head of Russia’s Orthodox Church on Sunday exhorted believers to pray at home, urging people to adhere strictly to authorities’ instructions “before someone dies in our families”.
“Refrain from visiting churches,” Patriarch Kirill said, even though Orthodox services went ahead, including one led by him. Mosques in Muslim majority Chechnya cancelled Friday prayers, Russian news agencies reported.
About 60 percent of Russia’s 144 million people consider themselves Orthodox Christians. But fewer than usual went to church on Sunday and some were wearing masks, according to media reports.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)