Russia sees record 2,558 new daily cases of coronavirus

Russia sees record 2,558 new daily cases of coronavirus as Moscow launches digital permits to control people’s movements after shocking video showed dozens of ambulances queuing for hours outside hospitals

  • Russia has 18,328 confirmed coronavirus cases and 148 deaths from the bug
  • Moscow under strict lockdown after 10,158 cases and 72 deaths reported there
  • Residents must apply for an online permit so their movement can be monitored
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

Russia has reported 2,558 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, its highest daily rise yet. 

The country has 18,328 cases with 148 deaths from the bug so far, an overnight rise of 18. 

Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, is under strict lockdown after 10,158 cases and 72 deaths were reported in the city alone.

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

In a bid to tackle residents flouting the lockdown rules, Moscow authorities have launched a digital permit system to control people’s movements.

Russia has reported 2,558 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, its highest daily rise yet. Pictured: Medics in protective equipment walk outside a hospital for patients infected with coronavirus in Moscow

Traffic police officers check the documents of arriving drivers on the Dmitrovskoye Highway in Moscow

A driver provided their documents to a traffic police officer. Entry into Moscow is restricted to slow the spread of coronavirus

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.

City authorities had planned to assign 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. 

Yesterday, shocking videos and pictures of long lines of ambulances outside Moscow hospitals emerged.

Police officers were checking the documents of drivers travelling into Moscow today. The city is under strict lockdown after 10,158 cases and 72 deaths were reported in Moscow

Snaking queues of dozens of medical vehicles all with patients showing symptoms of coronavirus were seen outside city clinics.

There were at least 45 ambulances queuing to deliver patients for treatment in one video as the Kremlin declared a state of emergency in Moscow’s hospitals.

One long line was outside a hospital in Khimki suburb, close to Moscow’s main Sheremetyevo airport. 

To escape the crisis, many have chosen to live remotely in Russia’s forests.

Snaking queues of dozens of emergency vehicles with patients showing symptoms of coronavirus were seen outside several city clinics in Moscow yesterday

At least 45 ambulances were seen queuing to deliver patients for treatment in one video as the Kremlin said Moscow’s hospitals were in ’emergency mode’

But inexperience is having detrimental effects after a grandfather died from mistakenly eating a poisonous root while camping.

In another instance, parents had their children taken into care after police caught them seeking to vanish from civilisation to avoid Covid-19.  

Philosopher Alexander Norko, 62, said he was escaping the ‘coronavirus hysteria’ in St Petersburg a video.

It explained that it was best ‘to go into nature, where there is harmony – where the birds sing and the sun is warm.’

But soon afterwards he ate a poisonous root plant which killed him.

His wife Larisa, 62, who had decided not to accompany him, said: ‘He phoned me and said he had found roots of water lily and would boil them.

‘But according to experts, he made a mistake. It was cicuta (water hemlock) not lily.

‘It smells and tastes nice – but can kill a horse.’

In the Ural Mountains, and couple Andrey and Maria, both 30, took their three children aged ten, eight and four into the forest to ‘flee coronavirus’.

After a day they were found by police having spent one night sleeping under the stars as they headed for an abandoned wooden shack.

‘My husband watched the news about coronavirus on YouTube all the time,’ she said.

He believed the answer was to disappear into the forest away from the risk of infection and the dangers of civilisation.

On the way, he threw their mobile phones into a swamp.

Despite this they were tracked by police and forced back to the village. 

Philosopher Alexander Norko, 62, said he was escaping the ‘coronavirus hysteria’ in St Petersburg by fleeing to the woods. But soon afterwards he ate a poisonous root plant which killed him

Before he left for the woods, Mr Norko (pictured) said it was best ‘to go into nature, where there is harmony – where the birds sing and the sun is warm’

The children were removed from their care, and the parents now face fines for negligence, she said.

‘It is my younger son’s birthday and I could not even see him,’ said Maria. 

Artyom Salovarov, 32, also chose to disappear with his tent to the shore of Baikal, the deepest lake in the world in Siberia.

He was asleep when a brown bear found and ate the porridge he had cooked on his camp fire and gobbled his sausages.

Mr Salovarov woke and fired several flares to scare away the aggressive predator then climbed the nearest pine tree, using his mobile to call emergency services.

Rescuer Sergei Biryukov explained: ‘We arrived at the site using the light of the scared man’s torch to find him.

‘He was up a tree, 30 metres (100 ft) from the shore.

‘The bear was afraid of the noise from our equipment and ran away.’

Artyom Salovarov, 32, also chose to disappear with his tent to the shore of Baikal, the deepest lake in the world in Siberia

Mr Salovarov was asleep when a brown bear found and ate the porridge he had cooked on his camp fire and gobbled his sausages

Coronavirus upends Putin’s political agenda in Russia 

Spring is not turning out the way Russian President Vladimir Putin might have planned it.

A nationwide vote on April 22 was supposed to finalize sweeping constitutional reforms that would allow him to stay in power until 2036, if he wished. 

But after the coronavirus spread in Russia, that plebiscite had to be postponed – an action so abrupt that billboards promoting it already had been erected in Moscow and other big cities.

Now under threat is a pomp-filled celebration of Victory Day on May 9, marking the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

A nationwide vote on April 22 was supposed to finalize sweeping constitutional reforms that would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036, if he wished, has been postponed due to the coronavirus crisis 

The holiday has become the most important on Russia’s calendar, and this year is the 75th anniversary, with world leaders invited to a celebration highlighting the country’s exceptional role in history. Every year, thousands gather in Moscow, including many elderly veterans proudly wearing their medals.

Military units have already rehearsed the traditional Red Square parade, drilling outside Moscow, and leaders such as France’s Emmanuel Macron and India’s Narendra Modi had promised to attend.

It would seem impossible to have such a gala now, with much of Russia and the world locked down to stop the spread of the virus.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week no decision has been made on whether to postpone it but authorities are considering ‘options,’ one of which is to hold it without the veterans, a group especially vulnerable to the virus. 

Peskov added the Kremlin would understand if foreign leaders decided not to come due to the pandemic and added the celebration would take place even if it doesn’t happen on May 9.

Initially underestimated by Russian authorities, the pandemic has posed an unexpected challenge for Putin, whose political standing now depends on whether he can contain the damage from it.

On March 24, Putin was shown donning a yellow hazmat suit to visit a hospital for infected patients.

Officials then indefinitely postponed the vote on the constitutional reforms that would have allowed Putin to serve two more six-year terms after 2024. 

The amendments already have been approved by lawmakers but the government wanted nationwide balloting to give the changes a democratic veneer. Campaigns promoting the vote had already kicked off in dozens of Russian regions.

In preparation for the vote and Victory Day, Russia’s state news agency Tass had begun releasing parts of a three-hour interview with Putin, with the 67-year-old leader talking about what he had done for the country in the past 20 years and what more needs to be accomplished. 

But Tass suspended daily extracts of the interview, saying it was no longer relevant to an audience more concerned about the coronavirus.

The outbreak has completely reset the Kremlin’s political agenda, said Nikolai Petrov, a senior research fellow in Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Program.

‘Everything that was happening before (the outbreak) has basically been wiped out,’ Petrov said.

A traffic officer checks the paperwork of a driver in Moscow, the city remains under lockdown

‘That whole political agenda (of constitutional reform), that had been unfolding since mid-January is over.’

He added that for the moment, ‘I think we can forget about the constitutional amendments.’

The coronavirus crisis presents many difficulties for Putin, whose approval ratings – steadily dropping in the past two years – reached 63 per cent in March – the lowest since 2013.

It comes as the prices of oil, Russia’s main source of income, plummeted amid a price war with Saudi Arabia, causing a sharp drop in the ruble. The pandemic brought with it the prospects of more economic devastation.

As much of Russia went into lockdown, which Putin sugarcoated by describing it as ‘nonworking days,’ many business operations came to a halt, prompting fears of a mass shutdown by companies and leaving millions unemployed.

The Chamber for Trade and Industries, a government-backed business association, predicted 3 million companies could go out of business and 8 million people – almost 11 per cent of Russia’s working population – could end up jobless.

A weakening economy and worsening living conditions, widely seen by analysts as the driving force behind Putin’s souring ratings, have already become the dominating fear among Russians. With the crisis still unfolding, it is likely to hurt his standing even more, said Denis Volkov, a sociologist with the independent Levada polling center.

When people start fearing things getting worse ‘then the ratings start plummeting,’ Volkov said.

The Kremlin’s response to the crisis has raised questions at home and abroad.

On March 24, Putin was shown donning a yellow hazmat suit to visit a hospital for infected patients

Domestically, Putin has been widely criticized for paying little attention to the epidemic at first, and then for distancing himself from it by delegating difficult decisions on lockdowns to regional governments and the Cabinet.

Some in the West have questioned the low number of official virus cases in Russia and dismissed its widely publicized effort to send planeloads of medical aid to Italy, the US, Serbia and other countries as a PR stunt.

Putin sought to reassure the nation in a TV address on April 8, but part of his message comparing the coronavirus to invaders from the 10th and 11th centuries brought mockery on social media instead.

‘Our country went through many serious challenges. It was tormented by the Pechenegs and the Cumans, and Russia got through all of it. We will defeat this coronavirus bug, too,’ Putin said.

Social media users pointed out that not only did Putin use this line in 2010, he might have borrowed it from an anecdote from the 19th century.

‘The risks of him (Putin) looking out of touch are very real,’ Samuel Greene, director of the Russia Institute at the King’s College London, said.

Putin used to be able to regain control of the political agenda by shifting the focus from domestic hardships to Russia’s geopolitical grandeur, rallying people around the 2014 annexation of Crimea or fighting what he called terrorists in Syria. But this time, as Russia is forced to confront a truly global crisis, that tactic seems much harder.

‘There can be nothing that would interest people more than the hardship they are going through and will continue to go through for a long time,’ said Petrov.

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