Moscow hunkers down to slow spread of coronavirus

By Ignacio Ortega

Moscow, Mar 27 (efe-epa).- Europe’s most populous city is shutting down to contain the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. After Friday, Muscovites can look forward to a week of enforced vacation spent inside their homes, as even walks in the park are prohibited.

“Stay Home! Protect your health and that of your loved ones!” is the message displayed on signs and giant screens across Moscow and recited over the public address system on the metro.

While President Vladimir Putin has not placed any part of Russia under quarantine, all entertainment and leisure venues in the capital have been ordered to close.

Moscow accounts for more than half of Russia’s 1,036 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and for all four of the deaths blamed on the illness.

Putin proclaimed a nationwide paid holiday from March 28 to April 5, but the call for people to stay home is so far limited to Moscow, though Russians in other parts of the nation have been urged to stay away from the capital.

Municipal authorities here began by closing schools, barring large gatherings and imposing a mandatory quarantine on people over 65 and those with chronic health problems.

The next step taken by Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin was to shut down museums, libraries, public swimming pools and gyms.

And after the president proclaimed a week of paid leave for all Russians, the mayor escalated the social distancing campaign by shuttering the city’s bars, restaurants, nightclubs, saunas and all non-essential businesses.

The closures have extended to institutions that remained open even during the dark days of World War II, such as the Bolshoi Ballet.

Establishments selling food are allowed to remain in operation.

But an employee at a farmer’s market on Moscow’s north side told Efe that trade has collapsed. “For days, nobody comes. They may as well close us down,” he said.

Pharmacies, banks, funeral parlors, utilities and transportation facilities and churches can also remain open.

While Russia’s senior Muslim clergy canceled the traditional Friday prayers at mosques, the Russian Orthodox hierarchy that churches must keep their doors open to comfort the faithful during a stressful time.

The hierarchy denounced as illegal an order by the municipal government of St. Petersburg to suspend religious services and to emphasize the point, Patriarch Kirill plans to personally officiate next Sunday at Russia’s most imposing Orthodox church, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

A day before the official start of the shutdown, the Moscow Metro – typically used by 10 million people a day – was virtually empty Friday, and the same could be said of the city’s trams and buses.

Gorky Park, the capital’s most popular green space, closed a day ago and the Soviet-era VDNKh exhibition ground has the appearance of a ghost town, with just a handful of visitors instead of the tens of thousands who would normally throng the site on a Friday to stroll among the pavilions and skate on Moscow’s largest ice rink.

Muscovites who have country homes began streaming out of the capital late Thursday to spend the lockdown at their dachas.

But the residents who have no other option than to remain the city will not be alone, as members of the Medical Volunteers group are deployed throughout Moscow to help people cope.

“We are medical students who cross the city showing people how to wash their hands, put on gloves and masks. We also work with the coronavirus patients in the hospitals,” Irina told Efe while giving a demonstration outside a busy supermarket.

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