Russia starts shutdown despite no epidemic

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Russia is beginning what Vladimir Putin called a “non-working week’’, to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The government is urging people to stay at home, though mixed messaging has left many Russians confused.

Officials now hint the new restrictions could be extended beyond April 5, depending on the health situation.

The number of Russians infected with Covid-19 passed 1,000 on Friday, with most cases detected in Moscow.

Based on that figure, the Kremlin spokesman has stressed that there is “de facto no epidemic” here, comparing Russia’s position favourably with the crisis in Europe.

And whilst state TV’s rolling news channel has changed its name to We’re Staying Home, broadcasting from presenters’ living rooms, many people are struggling to adjust after its previous insistence that Covid-19 was a “foreign threat”.

So when Mr Putin announced a paid week off work for all, there was a rush to book holidays.

Closure of shopping centres
The governor of Krasnodar region, which includes the Black Sea resort of Sochi, had to order the closure of all shopping centres, parks and restaurants  and limit flights after hotel reservations sky-rocketed.

“This is not a week of extra leave or holiday,” explained Benjamin Kondratiev on Instagram, clarifying the president’s speech. He added his own call for “self-discipline” to get through what he called the “bad period” of coronavirus.

Many Muscovites have already headed out of town to their dachas, or summer houses.

In Moscow, there has been a noticeable increase in people in facemasks on the streets since Mr Putin’s national address.

Supermarket staff has begun wearing them and there are bottles of hand sanitiser in coffee shops.

Food shops will remain open, as well as other essential services, but from this weekend cafes and restaurants can offer takeaway only.

At one popular coffee chain, a barista who’s now selling drinks through a window said coronavirus was the only topic of conversation these days, and that people were worried.

Her own hours have been cut; in other sectors, people are already being laid-off.

 

Nneka Ukachukwu