MOSCOW (Reuters) – Authorities in the Russian capital announced a partial lockdown, ordering residents to stay at home from Monday in their toughest move yet to slow the spread of coronavirus after the number of official cases in Moscow passed the 1,000 mark.
FILE PHOTO: Women with protective masks, widely used as a preventive measure against coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walk across Red Square near the St. Basil’s Cathedral in central Moscow, Russia March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
The order came days after Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, urged Muscovites to avoid public places, non-essential travel and walks – 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.
Muscovites will only be allowed to go out to buy food or medicines at their nearest shop, get urgent medical treatment, walk the dog, or take out the bins, he said.
Those needing to go to work would also be allowed to leave their homes, he said, adding that authorities would introduce a system of access passes allowing people to move around the city in the coming days.
“An extremely negative turn of events that we see in the largest cities in Europe and the United States causes great concern for the life and health of our citizens,” Sobyanin said.
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% of Russians fully trust official information about the coronavirus, while 24% 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% 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.
Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Daniel Wallis