63.2 F
Seattle
Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Russia Abruptly Locks Down: Borders Closing, Air Travel Suspended, Public Told to Stay Home

President Vladimir Putin addresses Russians (BBC screen grab)

Less than a week after President Vladimir Putin declared coronavirus “under control” in Russia, the Kremlin announced Saturday that it would close Russia’s borders on Sunday and ordered citizens to stay home for the next week unless they provide essential services.

On Friday, the Russian government abruptly suspended all international commercial and charter flights except for organized evacuation of citizens returning from abroad.

Tass front page Sunday morning

The official TASS news agency now flashes a message at the top of its homepage: Budtye Doma – Stay Home.

It’s been a stunning reversal of policy in a country that has been telegraphing to the population that Russia was in “a lot better” situation amid the global pandemic that has slammed neighbors China and Europe with widespread infections and thousands of deaths.

Putin on Tuesday visited a hospital in Moscow caring for what were reported as the few virus patients. The Kremlin leader, wearing full hazmat protection, made his not-to-worry observations as a crew from state-run television recorded his visit. But he was also accompanied by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who interjected that the reason Russia had so few confirmed cases at the time was because there has been little testing.

Sobyanin appears to have taken charge of the virus containment policy, at least in the capital. The TASS announcement attributed the lockdown and mandatory closure orders to Sobyanin, rather than a federal official or government entity.

Putin’s posture during the pandemic had for weeks mimicked that of Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who persisted in brushing off the threat to their countries from a virus that was spreading rapidly elsewhere.

Russia’s slow and low reporting of new infections began spurring suspicions a week ago that the virus spread was being underreported because it was largely undetected. Two days ago, Russia’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 stood at 568. On Saturday the number reported to the World Health Organization more than doubled to 1,264, four of them resulting in death.

Opposition politicians and independent trade union activists began raising the alarm over the past week. Anastasia Vasilyeva, president of the Doctors’ Alliance with associations across Russia, said in a YouTube video that the country recorded an alarming increase of “community-spread pneumonia” this winter that some health-care professionals suspect were cases of coronavirus.

Russia, a country of 145 million spread across two continents and 11 time zones, has grossly uneven quality in its health care systems. State-run clinics and hospitals in the provinces have seen their budgets slashed over the past five years as global oil prices tumbled and cut deeply into government revenue. Private medical practices in Moscow and other major cities are better equipped but are beyond the means of most Russians.

TASS also reported Saturday that Russians working in Venezuela’s oil industry were being brought home and all operations of the Rosneft petroleum conglomerate shut down. Venezuela, where political chaos and an economic crisis have ravaged public services and health, is another of the countries reporting suspiciously low incidence of coronavirus. Confirmed cases of infection in Venezuela, a country of 32 million, were reported as 113 on Saturday with two fatalities.

Carol J Williams
Carol J. Williams is a retired foreign correspondent with 30 years' reporting abroad for the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press. She has reported from more than 80 countries, with a focus on USSR/Russia and Eastern Europe.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Carol, great piece.
    This is something that should be picked up by the major media outlets, if they have not already.
    All authoritarian leaders resist presenting bad news to their citizens because they are seemingly in control and if something happens that they cannot immediately control they do not let the public know, for fear that their image of being in control is challenged.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

LATEST

Godden on West Seattle: Bring Back the Mosquito Fleet? (and other news)

A new way to get off West Seattle, and a local city's leg-pulling twitter site.

Take Back the Streets: Remaking Seattle As ‘The Outdoors City’

Restaurants are reinventing themselves in this way, knowing that eating outdoors is healthier for resisting transmission of the coronavirus. Might Seattle reinvent itself broadly as an outdoors city, despite the mild and rainy winters?

Coming Up: Live Zoomcast with Mort Kondracke And David Domke on Election 2020

Mort Kondracke Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum, a nonprofit membership library in the Pike Place Market, is launching a...

Early Handicapping 2020 Washington State Elections

Until very recently the King County suburbs were the state’s main battleground. Now the swing districts are in Pierce, Mason, Clark, Cowlitz, Skagit, Island, and Whatcom counties. There are ZERO competitive partisan races in King County this year.

Northeastern Oregon, Where Wearing Masks is a Signal

The wearing and non-wearing of masks serves as a convenient statement in this rural county. Wearing one in town I definitely felt like I was signaling my tribal identity, which seems crazy, but there it is."

TRENDING

Timeline: What We Know so far about the Virus… and it’s Scary

With each new story, the SARS CoV-2 virus is revealed to be a more enigmatic and dangerous adversary.

Early Handicapping 2020 Washington State Elections

Until very recently the King County suburbs were the state’s main battleground. Now the swing districts are in Pierce, Mason, Clark, Cowlitz, Skagit, Island, and Whatcom counties. There are ZERO competitive partisan races in King County this year.

Take Back the Streets: Remaking Seattle As ‘The Outdoors City’

Restaurants are reinventing themselves in this way, knowing that eating outdoors is healthier for resisting transmission of the coronavirus. Might Seattle reinvent itself broadly as an outdoors city, despite the mild and rainy winters?

Godden on West Seattle: Bring Back the Mosquito Fleet? (and other news)

A new way to get off West Seattle, and a local city's leg-pulling twitter site.

Working to Save Democracy: Seattle’s David Domke Mobilizes Volunteers

UW Professor (on leave) David Domke, founder of a 2,000-volunteer, Seattle-based activist group, Common Purpose Now, is working to expand voter participation and elect Democrats all over the country this year.