Coronavirus Cases In Russia Surge Past 100,000

Medical workers transport a woman into a hospital where patients infected with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus are being treated in the settlement of Kommunarka outside Moscow on April 27, 2020. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP.

 

Coronavirus cases in Russia surged past 100,000 on Thursday, the government said, with an increase of 7,099 confirmed infections in the last 24 hours.

Russia has so far recorded 106,498 cases and 1,073 deaths from the virus, the government’s coronavirus information site said in a daily update.

Russia recently surpassed Iran and China in the total number of confirmed infections and is now eighth in the world in virus cases.

With the number of infections steadily rising by several thousand every day, President Vladimir Putin warned this week that the situation remained “very difficult”.

He said Russia had managed to slow the spread of the epidemic but cautioned that “this should not reassure us.”

Medics in Russia have complained of shortages of protective gear and testing kits and hospital staff are becoming increasingly concerned with deaths in the medical community.

The Kremlin this week extended until May 11 a “non-working” period when Russians would stay at home but still receive their salaries as part of sweeping efforts to contain the virus.

READ ALSO: German Jobless Total Soars In April Due To COVID-19

Yet the measure has brought uncertainty to the economy and business owners struggling to pay full salaries to employees while shutting their doors to customers.

Despite the steady increase in cases, Putin said that Russia may begin to gradually lift different quarantine regimes throughout the country from mid-May.

Yet Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on Wednesday extended a ban on entry for foreigners into the country, which was due to expire Thursday, until “the fight against the infection is over and the epidemic situation has improved.”

The pandemic has thwarted several major political events for the Kremlin this year, with Putin cancelling a massive military parade on May 9 commemorating the 75th anniversary of victory in World War II.

The Kremlin also postponed an April 22 vote on landmark constitutional reforms, which would have paved the way for Putin, 67, to potentially stay in power until 2036.

AFP

COVID-19 Lockdown Adds To Misery Of Moscow’s Homeless

A man wears a protective suit and a gas mask as he walks along a street in central Moscow on March 21, 2020
A man wears a protective suit and a gas mask as he walks along a street in central Moscow on March 21, 2020. STRINGER / AFP/ Russia OUT

 

Pushing aside a flap, hungry men and women enter a darkened tent in the courtyard of a Moscow church.

“Only two per table please,” says Valentina, a volunteer in a hospital gown, gloves and surgical mask.

“Don’t crowd!” she says, and three men move silently apart, sinking spoons into powdered mashed potatoes.

Only 16 people are allowed in at a time — in a space that normally would accommodate dozens.

The repurposed army tent dubbed the Rescue Hangar is one of the few places where the Russian capital’s growing homeless population can find food and medical aid during the coronavirus lockdown.

Affiliated with the Orthodox Church and funded mostly by donations, the hangar normally serves around 100 people per day.

But since Moscow imposed its lockdown to slow new coronavirus infections, as many as 500 visit in search of a hot meal on some days, volunteers say.

The city of 12 million has only one government shelter, so its homeless have long had to rely on charity.

They used to be able to count on workers at restaurants setting aside leftovers, but this ended when they closed with the lockdown.

With residents shut in to their apartments, homeless people are also not getting the street handouts they often used to buy food.

“The decrease in people traffic in Moscow has been a huge blow to the homeless population,” says Roman Skorosov, the Rescue Hangar coordinator.

Many are even struggling to find hot water or a toilet since shopping centres closed, charity workers told AFP.

And their numbers are growing.

“There are a lot of newly homeless, people who worked odd jobs without contracts and lived in cheap hostels,” Skorosov says.

“They are now on the streets.”

– Sleeping on trains –

Vladimir Petrovsky, who has been sleeping rough for several years and visited the Hangar for a meal, jokes that he has a “three-bedroom flat” — referring to Moscow’s three central train stations many favour for shelter.

With restrictions tightened at stations and parks, Petrovsky is sneaking onto a late-night suburban train out of Moscow, then taking an early morning train back to the city. The strategy lets him sleep for about four hours.

Volunteers say police have fined some homeless people who have failed to produce a mandatory pass for being outside, introduced in Moscow during the lockdown.

Petrovsky, a 67-year-old Ukrainian, said police have let him go with a warning after he failed to produce a pass.

“How can I get a pass if I don’t even have a passport?” he asks.

Finding a meal has become more difficult, he says, with police targeting some groups who feed the homeless.

Last week police detained four volunteers from Kursky Train Station Homeless, which brings hot food to the station twice a week, says its coordinator Oleg Olkhov.

“They were accused of creating a crowd and fined,” Olkhov says, pledging to continue providing food.

“Twice the usual number of people now come for meals,” he says.

– ‘15,000 homeless’ –

When Moscow’s mayor ordered the lockdown in March, activist Alania Zhurkina reached out to the city government, calling for a strategy to help at-risk homeless people self-isolate.

The energetic redhead who directs the House of Friends charity received a reply one month later that the city operates a shelter.

That facility has a capacity of about 1,000, while the number of homeless in Moscow is estimated at some 15,000, Zhurkina says.

Many in need are not local and have fallen through the cracks of unemployment support.

“It’s not their fault that in Russia you often need to come to Moscow to find a job,” she says.

Zhurkina has taken matters into her own hands, arranging to rent cheap hostels that normally house Moscow’s temporary labourers.

Her “Shelter” project already has a waiting list of 200 people and she launched a second hostel this week.

Even though her organisation’s funds are drying up, Zhurkina says she will not bother writing to the city again for help.

“What am I going to do, wait another 30 days for a reply?” she says. “The city has forgotten that homeless people exist.”

AFP

COVID-19: Moscow Launches Digital Travel Permits Under Lockdown

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

 

Moscow authorities are launching a digital permit system to control people’s movements after warning the coronavirus outbreak has put a huge strain on hospitals.

A website to apply for the passes was working Monday for people travelling by car or public transport.

The permit system, which will be operational from Wednesday, may be expanded to monitor people going out  even within their local neighbourhood, if needed, authorities said.

READ ALSO: Nigeria Records Five New COVID-19 Cases, Total Infections Now 323

City authorities had planned to assign Muscovites scannable bar codes to check whether people adhere to strict isolation rules, but that sparked huge controversy.

People would have had to apply for a QR code from officials online each time they wanted to leave their homes.

The plan was eventually dropped in favour of the digital passes.

Muscovites are only allowed to leave their homes to walk their dogs, take out trash and visit their nearest shop or pharmacy.

Russia has declared 15,770 cases of the coronavirus and 130 fatalities, though the actual numbers are believed to be much higher.

The densely populated capital with more than 12 million residents has emerged as the epicentre of the contagion with 10,158 cases and 72 deaths.

Moscow has been under lockdown since March 30, but is struggling to cope with the influx of new patients and officials said that clinics were approaching their limits.

AFP

Russia’s Putin Orders Bonuses For ‘Frontline’ Virus Medics

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 31, 2018 Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a meeting with Russian athletes and team members, who will take part in the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow. – Russia will miss next year’s Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games after the World Anti-Doping Agency on Monday banned the powerhouse from global sporting events for four years over manipulated doping data. (Photo by GRIGORY DUKOR / POOL / AFP)

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced additional payouts to health professionals working on “the frontline” of the country’s fight against the coronavirus.

Putin listed the bonuses as part of new measures to support Russians during the epidemic after health officials reported over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases.

The president also urged the public to be patient with the lockdown to help slow the spread of the infection.

“For most people, to be inside four walls is dreary and miserable,” he said during a video call with regional governors.

“A breakthrough in battling the infection will depend on our discipline and responsibility,” he said.

The country is realising how crucial the work of doctors is “for the first time in decades”, said Putin, promising 10 billion rubles ($132 million) for monthly bonuses to health care employees nationwide.

Doctors treating coronavirus patients would be paid an additional 80,000 rubles ($1,059) per month, while nurses, ambulance medics and drivers would get between 25,000 and 50,000 rubles.

“These specialists are on the front line,” Putin said, ordering an increase in their state insurance to the level enjoyed by members of the armed forces.

Russia on Wednesday reported 1,175 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 8,672. The epicentre of the epidemic in Russia is Moscow, with 5,841 cases.

So far, Russia has recorded only 63 deaths from the virus.

 

AFP

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

Russia Flag

 

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