By Bernardo Suárez Indart
Moscow, Mar 28 (efe-epa).- The streets of Moscow have come to a standstill from today and all of Russia has taken a long-weekend for health reasons as President Vladimir Putin took measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.
At the heart of the capital, a never before seen sight – Red Square, and the esplanade by the Kremlin, normally bustling with tourists and locals, were empty.
Four or five uniformed police officer and another in civilian clothing guarded the country’s main square, which is currently preparing to host a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany on 9 May.
The same can be said of Alexander Garden, at the foot of the Kremlin’s west wall, where the honor guard by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier now has no spectators.
The well-heeled GUM department store across from Lenin’s Mausoleum, like all non-food and essential items stores, remain closed and will remain so until at least 5 April.
Restaurants, cinemas, discos and large shopping malls have also had to close down.
In the Rizhski market, which is usually bustling with people on Saturday mornings, shoppers were conspicuous by their absence and stall clerks killed time by talking.
“What we lose in sales, we gain in health. Many people are now a danger,” Rafik, a fruit seller, told Efe.
He said his regular customers placed orders over the phone and, once he has them ready, he alerts them to come and collect them.
“They don’t even have to get out of the car; I take the bags to the parking lot.”
In the Moscow metro, the main transport system in the city, passengers are scarce but the use of masks has increased.
“By order of the Mayor of Moscow, all people over 65 or with chronic diseases, must remain at home and only go out on the street in cases of extreme need,” the message over the tannoy says.
Despite these warnings, older people are still seen in the street.
“This is not a party, but a key measure in ght fight against the spread of infection caused by the new coronavirus,” Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said, urging people to isolate at home for eight days and not travel to country houses.
In his blog, he urged the population not to go outside unless it was essential.
“Today, the lives of many people literally depend on each one of us. Please stay home,” he insisted.
In the last 24 hours in Russia, 228 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed, bringing the total number of patients to 1,264, including 817 in Moscow.
Since the first case was registered in the country, four people have died of coronavirus, all of them in Moscow.
Russia’s health minister, Mikhail Murashko, told reporters Saturday that the country was capable of producing enough testing kits to keep up with new cases.