Moscow Orders Lockdown As Russia Prepares For Total Confinement

Residents stay in their apartments on the Moscow outskirts late on March 29, 2020. All residents of Moscow will be under strict self-isolation rules beginning on March 30, 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.

Europe’s largest city announced the strict new isolation measures after many Muscovites refused to heed official recommendations and self-isolate at the weekend and instead went to parks for barbecues.

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,” Mishustin said at a government meeting.

In a rare televised address last Wednesday, Putin announced that Russians would not be required to go to work this week, but would still get paid.

The country has so far reported 1,534 cases of coronavirus and eight deaths, with more than one thousand infections in the capital.

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.

AFP

Moscow Elderly Told To Stay Home Or Escape Virus In Countryside

A man jogs along a street in downtown Moscow on February 10, 2020. Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP
A man jogs along a street in downtown Moscow on February 10, 2020.
Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP

 

The mayor of Moscow on Monday told older Russians to either stay at home or escape to their country houses to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.

In a video on his website, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the over 65s “must comply with an at-home regimen” between March 26 and April 14.

“You may not like it and even oppose it, but trust me, it is dictated by sincere concern for you,” said the mayor, who has been tasked with heading Russia’s overall coronavirus response.

Russia has so far reported 438 infections, the majority of them in Moscow, its largest city with more than 12 million inhabitants.

The country has gradually tightened restrictions, halting cultural and sports events, switching schools to distance learning and closing fitness clubs. It has also closed borders to almost all non-citizens.

However, unlike many countries in Asia and Europe, the national government has not ordered any confinement.

READ ALSO: World Athletics Chief Coe Calls For Olympics Postponement 

“You can go to the shop or the pharmacy only when you need to,” Sobyanin said, listing a number to call if help is needed.

“The best thing to do, if you can, is to go to your dacha, especially since the weather promises to be warm.”

Many big-city residents in Russia have country homes known as dachas, usually simple cottages with gardens on small plots of land, where they go at weekends and in summer.

Sobyanin did not say whether non-compliant pensioners would be punished.

But those in the age group complying with the rules will be compensated with a total of 4,000 rubles ($50), he said, also advising young people to “avoid personal communication with older people” to prevent infection from spreading and help their older neighbours who live alone.

The measures would not affect 67-year-old President Vladimir Putin because he “works where he lives”, his spokesman said, adding that the Kremlin is asking everyone involved in his meetings get tested beforehand.

One person who was infected with the virus in Russia has died but officials are not linking the death to the virus.

AFP

Russia Registers First Coronavirus Death

Two women wearing protective face masks to protect from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, use their smartphone to take a selfie while standing on Red Square in downtown Moscow on March 18, 2020. Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP
Two women wearing protective face masks to protect from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, use their smartphone to take a selfie while standing on Red Square in downtown Moscow on March 18, 2020. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

 

Russia registered the first death of a patient infected with the coronavirus on Thursday, an elderly woman who had been hospitalised in Moscow, health officials said.

The 79-year-old, who had tested positive, was hospitalised on March 13 and had several other conditions including diabetes and heart problems, Moscow’s coronavirus response headquarters said on social media.

-AFP

Coronavirus Grounds Astronauts In Russia’s Star City

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Astronauts awaiting a space mission are banned from leaving Star City training centre outside Moscow due to the novel coronavirus and will skip traditional pre-launch rituals, the centre’s head said Thursday.

The next launch to the International Space Station is due to blast off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan on April 9 with Russian cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy on board.

Pavel Vlasov, the head of Star City, where all astronauts prepare for missions, said that “quarantine for the crews started earlier than usual,” referring to the astronauts and the reserve crew.

Astronauts go into quarantine routinely ahead of space missions and give a final press conference at Baikonur from behind a glass wall to protect them from infection.

Vlasov said this procedure was speeded up because of the coronavirus pandemic. So far there have been 28 confirmed cases in Russia, most of them in Moscow.

Quoted on Star City’s website, Vlasov said: “The crews are not making any trips out, even such traditional ones as visiting the Kremlin wall and the house of Sergei Korolyov on the eve of departure for Baikonur.”

The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, is buried beside the Kremlin wall, making this a highly symbolic part of preparations. The house-museum of Korolyov, who was the brilliant engineer behind the first space launch, is in northern Moscow.

Vlasov said group tours of Star City have also been cancelled.

Astronauts have been allowed out until recently.

Cassidy posted an image of himself at a street festival in central Moscow on Instagram on Monday.

The International Space Station is currently clear of the virus as the last manned spacecraft docked there in September.

AFP

Oil Prices Plunge As Saudi Arabia, Russia Tussle

A currency dealer monitors exchange rates in a trading room at KEB Hana Bank in Seoul on March 9, 2020.
A currency dealer monitors exchange rates in a trading room at KEB Hana Bank in Seoul on March 9, 2020. Jung Yeon-je / AFP

 

Oil prices plunged by almost a third Monday, the biggest drop since the 1991 Gulf War, as top exporter Saudi Arabia launched a price war after Russia blocked a bid to cut output. 

In ferocious trading, both main crude contracts nosedived following Riyadh’s shock move to slash prices after the alliance between oil-exporting group OPEC and its partners fell apart.

At a meeting last week, Saudi Arabia led a push by OPEC ministers to reduce output to counter the impact of the coronavirus outbreak — but it hinged on agreement from the group’s allies, foremost among them Moscow.

However Russia, the world’s second largest oil producer, refused to tighten supply — and Riyadh then drove through the biggest cuts to prices in 20 years on Sunday, unleashing pandemonium on crude markets.

Saudi equities tanked more than nine percent in response with oil titan Aramco losing 10 percent.

The collapse in prices could have far-reaching consequences, observers warned, from battering revenues in energy-dependent countries, to triggering the cancellation of oil exploration projects and even sparking global deflation.

“A 30 percent plunge in crude oil prices is unprecedented and is sending a huge shockwave across financial markets,” said Margaret Yang, an analyst from CMC Markets.

In afternoon Asian trading, West Texas Intermediate was down about 30 percent while Brent crude slipped 26 percent.

The collapse in oil prices added to pressure on equity markets, which were already being hammered by the virus outbreak.

Bourses across Asia fell heavily, with Tokyo closing more than five percent lower and Sydney down over seven percent.

Stock markets in the energy-rich Gulf states nosedived at the start of trading Monday.

Trading was suspended on Kuwait’s Premier index after it fell 9.5 percent, while Dubai Financial Market dropped 9.0 percent and Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange shed 7.1 percent.

‘Punishing Russia’

Energy-linked stocks were among the hardest hit in Asia with Hong Kong-listed CNOOC tumbling 16 percent and PetroChina down 10 percent.

In Singapore, Sembcorp Marine — which works in the energy exploration sector — was down over 10 percent.

Saudi Arabia has cut its price for April delivery by $4-6 a barrel to Asia and $7 to the United States, with Aramco selling its Arabian Light at an unprecedented $10.25 a barrel less than Brent to Europe, Bloomberg said.

Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, said that “Saudi Arabia seems intent on punishing Russia.

“Oil prices… will likely be capped over the next few months as coronavirus stalls economic growth, and Saudi Arabia opens the pumps and offers huge discounts on its crude grades.”

Singapore’s OCBC Bank said the global economy could be hit by deflation if crude stays around the $30 mark for an extended period, as oil prices play a key role in driving inflation.

This could encourage authorities to loosen monetary policy as they try to stop an uncontrollable deflationary cycle, the bank said.

Yang of CMC Markets said if prices fall to extremely low levels, Russia might ultimately come back to the negotiating table with OPEC and agree on an output cut to shore up markets.

The new developments are reminiscent of the oil price war that erupted in 2014 and sent oil prices crashing to less than $30 a barrel.

The price fall then battered revenues in the Gulf countries, forcing them to resort to austerity measures and borrowing to plug budget deficits.

 

AFP

Russia Bars Iran Residents Over Coronavirus Fears

 In this file photo taken on March 05, 2020 a person takes from a bottle of hydroalcoholic hand sanitizer in Paris amid a spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavius. Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP
In this file photo taken on March 05, 2020 a person takes from a bottle of hydroalcoholic hand sanitizer in Paris amid a spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavius. Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

 

Russia announced plans to restrict access to people arriving from Iran on Friday, as it moves to ensure the population’s safety and thwart the spread of the new coronavirus infection.

The Federal Security Service will be “temporarily halting passage through the Russian border of foreign citizens… arriving from Iran” to work study or travel in Russia, a government decree said.

The measures which start at midnight (2100 GMT Friday) aim at “stopping the spread of the new coronavirus infection on Russian territory” and protect public health, it said.

The new rules exclude people with permanent residency in Russia, nationals of countries in the Moscow-led Eurasian economic union, which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as members of official delegations and plane crews, it said.

Russia’s foreign ministry will halt accepting documents of foreign nationals applying for the Russian visa from Iran, it said.

The government ordered its aviation authority to notify Russian airlines about the ban, which impacts passengers transferring through Russian territory.

Iran earlier had announced a surge in COVID-19 cases with 17 more deaths raising the total number of people killed to 124 as the Islamic republic battles the world’s deadliest outbreak of the disease outside China where it originated.

Russia on Friday announced six new cases of the COVID-19 virus infection in the country, five of which were registered in Moscow. All six recently visited Italy.

AFP

Russia Jails Jehovah’s Witness For Extremism

Woman display Jehovah's Witness literature along a street on February 26, 2020 in Orangeburg, South Carolina.SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP
Woman display Jehovah’s Witness literature along a street on February 26, 2020 in Orangeburg, South Carolina. SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

 

A court in Russia-annexed Crimea sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to six years in prison for extremism, the group said Thursday as Moscow pursues a crackdown on the US-based movement.

Russia outlawed the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017, labelling them an extremist organisation.

A court in Dzhankoy in the north of the Crimean peninsula sentenced Sergei Filatov, a 47-year-old father of four, to six years in prison, the religious group said.

“He is the first one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea to be convicted for so-called extremist activity,” said Jarrod Lopes, a New York-based spokesman for the religious movement.

“This bleak development in Crimea is the latest example of Russia exporting its patently extreme religious intolerance.”

The Dzhankoy district court confirmed in a statement that it had sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to six years in prison.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses said Filatov’s home was searched in November 2018 in one of the largest special operations against the movement in recent years.

More than 35 law enforcement officers including heavily armed special forces raided his home, the group said, noting that two of his children are minors.

The group said the case was “rife with falsifications”.

Moscow unleashed the crackdown on the Christian evangelical movement even though President Vladimir Putin said last year that Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be considered terrorists.

Ten members have received prison terms in Russia since 2017, including in Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Founded in the United States in the late 19th century, the movement has been repeatedly accused of proselytising or refusing to respect state symbols such as flags.

 

AFP

Russia Bans Export Of Masks, Hazmat Suits To Fight Coronavirus

A picture taken on March 4, 2020, in Paris, shows a bottle of alcohol gel hand sanitiser and an FFP2 protective face mask. 
Olivier MORIN / AFP

 

Russia has banned the export of masks, respirators and hazmat suits to ensure access to the items for medics treating coronavirus patients and the public, under a decree published Wednesday.

The ban covers 17 types of equipment including face masks, plastic shoe covers, gloves, surgical scrubs, gas masks, hazmat suits and “reusable anti-plague” suits.

READ ALSO: Iran Rejects US Virus Aid Offer Amid Sanctions

The ban aims “to protect the interests of Russian citizens” as the coronavirus outbreak has killed more than 3,000 people and infected around 92,000 globally.

It does not affect supplies leaving the country as humanitarian aid or for personal use. The decree is dated Monday, when it entered force, and is set to expire on June 1.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last month called for the closure of pharmacies that hike prices for face masks.

Russia has had six confirmed cases of coronavirus, including three people repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan and two Chinese citizens. The first case in Moscow, a Russian man who had travelled to Italy, was announced Monday.

The country has imposed a near blanket ban on visits by Chinese citizens, although flagship airline Aeroflot is still running some flights to and from China.

It has also restricted entry for Iranians and for those travelling from South Korea.

AFP

Russia Opposition Leader Accuses Authorities Of Freezing Account

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 20, 2019 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses demonstrators during a rally to support opposition and independent candidates after authorities refused to register them for September elections to the Moscow City Duma, Moscow.  AFP

 

Russia’s main opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Tuesday that authorities had frozen all of his bank accounts and those of his family, including his elderly parents.

“All accounts have been blocked,” Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner who has emerged as President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, said on Twitter.

His spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh told AFP that the accounts had been frozen due to a money-laundering probe against Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Navalny said that because of the blocked accounts his daughter, who is a student at Stanford University, was without money and that his retired parents could not receive their pensions.

“This is quite unpleasant, I won’t deny it. My parents are elderly people, pensioners,” he wrote in a blog post.

“My child is studying at the other end of the planet by herself — she’s been left without a single cent.”

He added that his son no longer had access to his savings account.

Investigators last summer launched a money-laundering probe into Navalny’s foundation, which seeks donations from the public, accusing it of taking money that was procured illegally.

In August, a Moscow district court froze 75 million rubles ($1.1 million) held in accounts by the foundation and staff members.

Navalny said his personal accounts had until now remained untouched.

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s foundation, said authorities had also blocked the bank accounts of his family.

Investigators have repeatedly accused Navalny’s foundation of financial crimes, including money laundering and accepting illegal donations, and frozen its accounts.

Navalny organised some of the biggest protests against Putin in recent years.

In the run-up to local elections in September, Navalny and his supporters organised a wave of protests after popular opposition politicians were barred from standing in the Moscow municipal election, prompting a police crackdown.

AFP

First Coronavirus Case Confirmed In Moscow

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Russian authorities on Monday confirmed the first case of coronavirus in Moscow, saying the patient had recently returned from Italy.

The anti-coronavirus task force said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies that the “young man” had fallen ill on February 21 while on vacation to Italy.

The man, who resides outside Moscow, returned to Russia on February 23, and started showing signs of a respiratory viral infection, it said.

He sought medical help and was hospitalised on February 27. Testing confirmed the infection on Monday and his symptoms were not severe, the statement said.

Nearly 90,000 people have been infected in over 60 countries and more than 3,000 people have been killed by COVID-19.

Russia has so far managed to avoid a large number of infections and introduced a range of travel and visa restrictions.

Russia repatriated and quarantined a number of  passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, three of whom tested positive for the virus.

Two Chinese citizens in Russia were also infected and treated in Siberia.

Moscow has imposed a near blanket ban on Chinese visitors over coronavirus fears and has closed rail links with China and halted most flights.

Authorities have also announced restrictions on travel to Russia from Iran and South Korea, two countries hit by the outbreak, and most recently advised against all non-essential foreign travel.

French President Macron Calls For ‘Lasting’ Syria Ceasefire

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for Turkey and Russia to implement a lasting ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province in conversations with the two countries’ leaders, the Elysee said.

Moscow-backed Syrian forces have since December led a military offensive against the final major rebel stronghold, where Ankara supports some rebel groups.

Macron expressed his “very strong concern about the unfolding humanitarian crisis” to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to a statement released on Saturday.

He also warned of the risk terrorist groups would spread “because of the military offensive of the Syrian regime and its allies,” adding it undermined the 2018 Idlib agreement between Russia and Turkey to create a demilitarised zone in the northwestern province.

READ ALSO: Merkel, Macron, Johnson Agree To Work Towards ‘Reducing Tensions’ In Mideast

The accord has fallen apart as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces moved to recapture the last big region outside his control.

Macron said an “immediate halt to hostilities” is needed and called on Russia and Turkey to implement a “lasting and verifiable” ceasefire as outlined in that agreement.

Russia must “end its military offensive in northwest Syria and respect international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians, personnel and humanitarian access”, he added.

Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called for a summit with Erdogan and Putin to seek an end to the crisis.

AFP

Putin Reveals Plan To Use Body-Double

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with members of the working group for amending the constitution in Moscow on February 26, 2020. Alexey DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with members of the working group for amending the constitution in Moscow on February 26, 2020. Alexey DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday revealed there was a secret plan to use a double to make public appearances for him, while insisting he vetoed it — and that he is the real Putin.

Putin’s comments showed that a conspiracy theory widespread on the internet that the Russian strongman has been impersonated over the years or even replaced by a lookalike is not entirely without basis.

TASS state news agency showed Putin a list of popular Russian-language Internet searches including “Putin double proof”.

“Are you real?” the interviewer asked.

“Yes,” said Putin.

He said he has never had a double but when asked if the idea had ever been discussed, he confirmed it had.

“I refused to have doubles,” Putin said. “It was during the hardest times of the fight against terrorism.”

Putin as prime minister and then president oversaw the second war against separatists in Chechnya from 1999 to 2000.

After Russian armed forces claimed victory, Islamist insurgent attacks became frequent in the North Caucasus while suicide bombers targeted Russia’s main cities.

“Was that in the early 2000s?” asked interviewer Andrei Vandenko, who is doing a series of interviews with Putin to mark 20 years since he became president.

“Yes,” said Putin.

“The double would go where things were dodgy?” asked Vandenko.

“Well yes, go, put in appearances,” Putin confirmed.

These centred on the 67-year-old’s apparent lack of signs of ageing, the disappearance of bags under his eyes and his seemingly worsening knowledge of German, which he learned when working as a Soviet agent in East Germany.

In 2015, Putin disappeared from public view for 10 days, unleashing a frenzy of speculation that he had once again become a father, been deposed in a palace coup, fallen ill, had cosmetic surgery or even died.

“It’s boring without gossip,” Putin said after reappearing.

 

AFP