Moscow tightens lockdown with permit system as virus spreads

Tribune Content Agency

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin tightened the lockdown on Russia’s capital, introducing a system that will require people to receive permission to travel starting next week after voluntary restrictions failed to keep people off of the streets.

The permits will initially be required only for people going to work and then be expanded for any type of travel, Sobyanin wrote on his blog. The mayor said the city could institute a third stage that will require people to have permission to move around their own neighborhoods, if necessary. The new system comes after officials warned that Moscow’s health care system was increasingly stressed by the continued spread of coronavirus despite a stay-at-home order issued March 30.

“The pass system for moving around the city makes for necessary restrictions and inconveniences,” the mayor said. “But when it comes to the health and life of a huge number of people, there is no choice. Especially when we see that, unfortunately, not all comply with the established restrictions.”

Moscow, whose population of 12.7 million makes it Europe’s biggest capital, largely shut down when Sobyanin ordered all nonessential businesses closed and people to remain in their homes. But after nearly two weeks, more people have started ignoring the orders, according to a self-isolation index based on location data gathered by internet company Yandex NV.

While some European cities require people carry a written note describing where they are going whenever leave the house, Moscow’s system appears more similar to some in China, where many places still require QR codes in order to monitor residents’ movements after lifting stay-at-home rules.

Sobyanin announced several other measures to tighten the lockdown from April 13 to 19, including halting all construction work, shutting down the world’s biggest car-sharing program and delaying all nonessential municipal spending.

Moscow, which has one of the biggest facial-recognition camera networks in the world, may not be ready to implement mass surveillance yet, said Artem Kozlyuk, the founder of Roskomsvoboda, a Moscow-based group that campaigns against online restrictions.

“These are long-term plans, and the pandemic plays into the authorities’ hands as they seek to test their capabilities,” Kozlyuk said.

Moscow’s hospitals are already working at capacity due to the number of coronavirus cases, with 1,300 hospitalizations a day currently, up from about 500 earlier in the crisis, Sobyanin said. The city has converted 25 clinics to deal with coronavirus patients and plans to double that number soon, he said.

The entire Russian health care system is facing a shortage of protective gear and ventilators due to stress from the epidemic, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said in an interview on Rossiya 24 Friday.

About two-thirds of Russia’s 11,917 coronavirus infections are in Moscow, which saw cases jump 17% overnight. This month, the city is planning to open a new 500-bed virus hospital that it built from the ground up in a matter of weeks.

Sobyanin, who has pushed for unpopular measures to slow the epidemic’s spread, has consistently struck a more pessimistic tone than many in the government. He told state-run RIA Novosti in an interview published Friday that Russia was still far from the peak of coronavirus infections.


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