Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jun 08, 2020
Fatigue and slow return to normal life: Russia in a new phase of epidemic

Despite Russia having the third highest number of infections after the United States and Brazil, June has become a month of gradually  lifting the restrictions. Shops, parks and churches are opening, people are allowed to go for walks and play sports. With new rules and restrictions, airlines, hotels and sanatoriums are getting ready for the tourist season. Two months of being under lockdown has made the atmosphere quite stressful both for people and the state wherein everybody wants to go back to the normal life. At the same time, given the current predicament, people understand that they are still far from full normalization.

The high number of infections in Russia can be directly related to the scale of testing. As of June 7, more than 12,7 million tests were conducted which is 87.17 tests per thousand people (it is 61.59 in the USA, 69.25 in Italy, 51.91 in Germany). < than 700 laboratories have started mass anti-body testing for COVID-19 since mid-May. In Moscow, a citizen can get himself/herself tested for free but non-permanent residents are required to pay for their test in a licensed private or public laboratory. This also holds true for Russian citizens who do not wish to wait.

The lockdown has helped in slowing down the spread of infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) agreed that Russia has come into the stabilization phase. The official statement of the Russian government by President Putin claimed on May 26 that Russia has overcome the peak of the pandemic. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko announced that 35 out of 85 regions are ready for the first phase of lifting restrictions. Moscow has reached a phase where the number of the recovered patients is already higher than number of the infected per day.

In fact, the overall lockdown was very mild and smooth. Despite official fines and checks, the police did not control people walking on the streets. A stricter order was deployed in the public transport. Many benefitted from the situation by walking to get essentials or for leisure which was officially prohibited in many cities during April and May. Nevertheless, social distancing was still strictly practiced..

The Russian society criticized the measures taken such as electronic passes, fines and surveillance applications dangerous to human dignity and privacy. Some of the hasty decisions led to huge queues in the underground and streets. These developments in the Russian society initiated discussion around the violation of human rights through electronic control. Some of the measures were officially called as an experiment which created a sense of doubt among the citizens on the legitimate reasoning of the lockdown.

As any other community, the Russian society is not free from conspiracy theories given the lack of information communicated. More than 30% citizens are highly critical about the existence of the epidemic as per the study conducted by the Higher School of Economics. At the same time, the citizens are highly unsure of the official data released by the officials especially the number of fatalities.  The consequence of which is the authorities facing lack of trust and disobedience.

Tension and fatigue seem to be the most significant challenge now. Russia has managed to deal with the most dangerous period of the pandemic inside the state. There is still a trend of growth and spread, especially, in the regions, but in Moscow only 50% of the medical capacities are engaged in the fight with the COVID-19. Doctors from Moscow are going to most critical regions to help with the pandemic situation prevailing there. Although we’re still in the middle, the Russian society does not seem to be much afraid of COVID-19.

Currently, Russia has entered the initial phase of recovery and coming back to normal. Education, defenses of thesis, graduations and examinations are still online, exceptions may appear in most secure regions. Cafes are working for take-out only, public accommodations in parks and streets are closed and restricted. It is highly recommended to work from home. Some social institutions as orphanages and hospices are temporarily closed for reception and quarantined. There are new sanitary regulations for airports, railway stations, trains and flights. The international borders are still closed. For one to rest in a local sanatorium, a certificate saying  that you are not infected of COVID-19 and haven’t come in contact with an infected person in the last two weeks is required. Even planned aid in hospitals are to be met with certain restrictions.

As a part of their relief package, the Russian government has initiated support and compensations for backbone enterprises, small and medium business, individual entrepreneurs, migrants, the unemployed, social workers, volunteers, families, children and pensioners. Business checks are suspended now. During the period of non-work weeks from April to the middle of May government and enterprises were advised to save and pay salaries to workers.

As a part of their humanitarian aid to other countries, Russians paid special  attention to the post-Soviet space handing aid to all CIS countries excluding Ukraine. Testing kits and medicines as aid was also given to countries like Italy, Serbia, Iran, USA, China, Algeria, Syria, North Korea, Lebanon and some others. The Defense Ministry sent a delegation of military doctors to Italy and Serbia who deployed their therapy and intensive care units and helped local hospitals with medical treatment and disinfection.

With this, Russia is also working towards developing a cure to fight COVID-19. Russia has already proposed 8 anti-COVID-19 vaccines to the World Health Organization for further examination.

The pandemic situation in Russia can be compared to the European countries , just with a delay of several weeks. The delay has helped Russia prepare for the worst. At present, it is important to lift the restrictions at ease while ensuring safety for the people to avoid a second wave of infections. There is a hope that the experience, healthcare capacities, new strict standards for public places and a good summer will help to avoid new outbreaks and throwbacks.

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