By Celine Aemisegger
Moscow, Mar 31 (efe-epa).- The Russian parliament on Tuesday granted its government the right to introduce emergency measures throughout the country with harsh sanctions for anyone who fails to comply with the orders.
Around half of Russia’s regions have already been put under lockdown amid an increasing number of coronavirus cases in the country.
Authorities reported a 500 rise of Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, the largest daily increase so far, bringing the total to 2,337, of which 1,613 are in Moscow.
Russia has reported 17 deaths from the virus, 11 of them in the capital, which has been the epicentre of the outbreak in the country.
The increased number of reported cases was partly due to expanded testing in the country, where more than 200,000 people were under medical observation.
From Monday to Tuesday, 193,100 tests were carried out with a total of 536,700 completed to date, according to the Rospotrebnadzor, the federal service responsible for wellbeing in Russia.
The majority of citizens have been calm about the growing pandemic but between 50 per cent and 60 per cent said they were a little worried and 20 per cent were very worried, according to a survey published on the government website stopcoronavirus.rf.
Russian parliament adopted an urgent bill allowing the government to impose an emergency regime throughout the country, which was previously the exclusive power of the head of state.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was “only natural” that the executive receives that power because it controls all the crisis management and operational headquarters of the institutions that are leading the fight against the virus.
Around half of Russia’s regions have already imposed lockdowns, including Moscow its surrounding area and Saint Petersburg.
Parliament also tightened sanctions for non-compliance with the restrictions, with breaches punishable by fines of up to $26,000 or five years imprisonment if it causes the death of another person, increased to seven if it causes the death of two or more people.
It also introduced fines and penalties to punish spreading news about the outbreak that the authorities consider to be false.
Anyone who knowingly spreads fake news can be punished with fines of up to $26,000 or a maximum of five years in prison.
“False information spreads at high speed, causes panic, disorients citizens, and hinders the measures being taken in the country to prevent the situation from worsening,” MP Pavel Krasheninnikov said.
Amnesty International immediately condemned the measure as a “serious threat to freedom of expression”.
Natalia Zviagina, director of Russian office in AI said Russian authorities had introduced measures on the pretext of combating the coronavirus that allow for the prosecution of freedom of expression.
The country’s prime minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered ministries to start sending people text messages if they violate the lockdown and using their mobile phone data to track their movements.
He also asked Moscow’s Mayor Sergey Sobyanin to monitor the city’s 13 million inhabitants for compliance with the confinement through mobile phone operators and services of the official portal of the mayor’s office.
Citizens woke in the capital on the second day of lockdown to a blanket of snow and minus 3C, an unusual event after a mild winter with high temperatures.