Expert Speak Health Express
Published on Sep 17, 2020
No more quarantine: Is it time for Russia to celebrate?

If one was to visit Russia now, it would appear that there is no pandemic any longer. Crowds of people walk through the streets, visit tourist spots and cafes, resorts and the seaside are overloaded, and some regions are already holding concerts and conferences. After all, Russia was the first country in the world to announce a COVID-19 vaccine.<1> So, is it high time to celebrate the victory?

The Russian government claims that people must do everything to avoid new quarantines and restrictions.<2> Twelve regions are still in the ‘red zone’, and many restrictions remain in force all over the country. Masks, social distancing, temperature checks, closed offices, and remote work and study remain an integral part of Russian reality. About 60 percent of Russians believe that a second way of the coronavirus outbreak could hit in the autumn.<3> It seems that people have already adapted to the new rules of living, and the government should now avoid creating obstacles for people to enjoy life even in such a restrictive environment. And indeed, lifting restrictions did not lead to any tangible rise in infection numbers in Russia, demonstrating the government has control over the situation.

Some countries have already opened their air spaces for Russia, including Turkey, the UK, Switzerland, Tanzania,<4> Egypt, United Arab Emirates and the Maldives.<5> Testing for COVID-19 is necessary to conduct events and to travel and has already become a daily routine without the compulsory quarantine.

This new reality is not connected to Russia’s announcement of the vaccine, Sputnik V. The vaccine could have become a cause for celebration for the whole world, but health authorities in other countries are still unsure of its use.<6> Some countries like Mexico, Belarus and Venezuela have agreed to participate in the testing of the Russian vaccine, and Vietnam and Kazakhstan have shown an interest in buying it, but some other countries have sought more details.<7>,<8> But although Russia has announced the vaccine, testing to check its effectiveness is still underway. Also, Sputnik V is not the only possible vaccine; other institutions are also testing different vaccines.

Despite being the first country to announce a vaccine, this is not an easy situation for Russian society. There is a strong anti-vaccination movement in the country, which is why even the current pandemic spurred conspiracy. Suspicions were rife in all communities. People remain sceptical about the treatment being provided in hospitals and are afraid of the potential side-effects of the vaccine, even as doubts over its effectiveness remain. Nevertheless, medical workers and teachers in Russia will be among the first to receive the vaccine, and a mass vaccination programme will start in 2021 in a volunteer format.<9>

Adapting to change

Most schools and universities have decided not to return to the traditional classroom format for now. There will be no mass events<10> and probably no international exchange programmes this year. International students who may currently be outside Russia will start their academic year via online classes. The Russian government is now discussing their entry into the country in the future. Digital learning must become an important part of the teaching process, but with Russian students, parents and teachers perceiving it quite negatively,<11> it cannot be the main channel of education. There are also limitations to digital education, including the development of emotional intelligence and skills you get through personal communication.

Closed borders are not an issue only for international students. Russia also needs foreign workers for the normal functioning of its economy, especially in its services industry. That is why the borders will certainly open soon, but, in the meantime, the area is being strictly regulated and controlled to avoid any new spread of COVID-19, firstly, from former Soviet countries.

There have also been other changes in domestic policy. Russians have begun to donate to charities more actively—donations for socially vulnerable groups during the quarantine rose by 89 percent over previous levels.<12> During the lockdown, several new activities and projects were announced to help those who have suffered due to the pandemic. For instance, the Sberbank financial conglomerate initiated a donation campaign<13> to support the invention of the vaccine and is also going to produce another possible vaccine via its subsidiary.<14>

The Russian healthcare system is also in need of urgent reforms, which are long overdue. Yet, despite its limitations, the healthcare system was able to handle the pressures of the pandemic without collapsing, with the government trying to adapt as the crisis wore on.

Russia’s religious community has also had to face a host of new challenges. Conforming to social distancing and sanitisation rules have caused several discussions and disagreements, but religious organisations and authorities at the federal and local levels managed to have reached a compromise. For instance, the Russian Orthodox Church closed churches for parishioners during the Great Fast and just before Easter.<15> Most churches and mosques in Russia were closed for worshippers for about two months, and in some regions for a far more extended period. Observing all religious rules became extremely difficult with the restrictions. Even so, the religious community adapted to the new normal quite successfully, despite there being instances of dissidence even though the virus infected several bishops and priests.<16>

What lies ahead

COVID-19 brought about many significant changes. The Russian tourism sector has lost about US$ 6.7 billion due to the pandemic.<17> Big cities became less dynamic and mobile, and mass gatherings were cancelled for a long time. With the pandemic showing the limitations of metropolises, it has given rise to a new discussion about reviving the Russian countryside. This year, Russians will have to open their country from inside anew. This is an opportunity for forgotten cities with history and beautiful sights to become popular, but the pandemic has also shown that not all destinations in the country are ready for internal tourist flows.

The lockdown presented a new opportunity for people to reconsider their fast-paced lives and careers. People are adapting to working from home, with the added advantage of spending time with their families and rebuilding connections with friends and acquaintances. The full consequences of such social transformations will only be visible in the future, but there are already some positive signs.

The pandemic has also given rise to concerns over the vulnerability of private life and easy access to a great amount of personal information through technology. Surveillance is now necessary to trace the spread of the infection, even as it sets a dangerous precedent of invading into an individual’s private life and the control governments have over data.

To cope with the economic side-effects, the Russian government announced a large package<18> of supportive measures to help small and medium-sized businesses, doctors,<19> families with children and those who lost jobs. Some of these measures have already been curtailed, but it too early to think that the economic crisis has been overcome. Several groups remain vulnerable, including homeless people, young families and single mothers, persons with disabilities, the unemployed and those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The government and civil society must assist these groups.

Lockdowns, coupled with social instability, could give rise to unrest and protest movements. It is important for the Russian government to ensure such a situation does not arise, given that the grounds for dissatisfaction exists.

The COVID-19 crisis and other local factors have had a strong impact in Russia. If the Russian vaccine proves safe and effective, it will be a huge step forward for the entire world. But until then, Russia and other countries must try to avoid new waves of infection by employing the lessons they’ve learned during the past six months.

This essay originally appeared in Rebooting the World


<1>Russia Becomes First Country to Register a Coronavirus Vaccine,” Euronews, August 11, 2020.

<2>Путин призвал сделать все, чтобы избежать повторного карантина,Интерфакс, July 29, 2020.

<3> Ольга Игнатова, “ВЦИОМ: Около 60% Россиян не исключают второй волны коронавируса,Российская газета, August 22, 2020.

<4>Russia to Re-Launch International Air Travel on August 1,Russian Aviation Insider, July 25, 2020.

<5>Russia Resumes International Air Service with Egypt, Emirates, Maldives,” TASS, September 3, 2020.

<6> Zamira Rahim, “What We Know - and Don't Know - about Russia's 'Sputnik V' Vaccine,CNN, Cable News Network, August 13, 2020.

<7>Mexico to Test Russia's Coronavirus Vaccine,The Moscow Times, August 21, 2020; “Mexico to Test Russia's Coronavirus Vaccine,The Moscow Times, August 21, 2020.

<8>Russia to Supply over 2 Mln Doses of Sputnik V Vaccine to Kazakhstan,TASS, August 26, 2020; “Vietnam to Purchase Russian COVID-19 Vaccine,TASS, August 14, 2020.

<9>Russia Likely to Start Covid-19 Mass Vaccination from January 1, 2021,Business-Standard, August 11, 2020.

<10>Массовые мероприятия в российских школах запретили до конца 2020 года,, August 14, 2020.

<11> Надежда Померанцева, “Почему студенты и преподаватели невзлюбили дистанционное обучение,Ведомости, May 28, 2020.

<12> Дарья Гладких, “В период пандемии россияне аожертвовали на благотворительность в два раза больше, чем до начала эпидемии,Собака.ru, May 19, 2020.

<13>Сбербанк дает возможность всем присоединиться к борьбе с коронавирусом,” "Сбербанк" – Individual Clients, May 12, 2020.

<14>‘Дочка’ Сбербанка займется производством вакцины от коронавируса,РБК, August 21, 2020.

<15>Moscow Orthodox Churches Re-Open,Republic World, June 7, 2020.

<16>РПЦ назвала храмы, в которых выявили случаи заражения коронавирусом,Коммерсантъ, April 13, 2020.

<17>Ростуризм оценил потери российского турбизнеса из-за COVID-19 в 1,5 трлн рублей,Интерфакс, July 9, 2020.

<18>Парламент принял новый пакет законов для поддержки граждан в условиях коронавируса,” Государственная Дума, April 17, 2020.

<19>Стимулирующие выплаты работникам, оказывающим медицинскую помощь пациентам с COVID-19,” mosgoszdrav, 2020.

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Viktoriia Ivanchenko

Viktoriia Ivanchenko

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Viktoriia Ivanchenko

Viktoriia Ivanchenko

Viktoriia Ivanchenko is an analyst at the Institute of Integration Development of the Russian Foreign Trade Academy. Also Viktoriia is an expert of PICREADI (Creative ...

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