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Russia’s Coronavirus Cases Surge to 485K Yet Moscow Cancels Quarantine. Why?

People walk around Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure after quarantine restrictions were partially lifted in Moscow on June 8, 2020. © Reuters

PortandTerminal.com, June 9, 2020

MOSCOW – Moscow has lifted its lockdown despite Russia reporting thousands of new daily cases.

Starting Tuesday, Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s pandemic with around half of the country’s total cases, began to cancel its quarantine measures which included a digital pass system to regulate residents’ movement around the city and restrictions on walks outside.

Two people sunbathing on bench. Two men in Russian uniform and surgical masks
Life for Moscow’s 13 million residents resumed a semblance of normality after two months of lockdown as some restrictions in Russia’s capital were lifted

Moscow Mayor’s change of heart

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin (L) shown here with Russian President Vladimir Putin (R). Kremlin in background
Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin (L) shown here with Russian President Vladimir Putin (R). Sobyanin is a staunch Putin loyalist.

In the Moscow Times today, journalist Evan Gershkovich writes that Moscow mayor Sobyanin two weeks ago told city residents that they would be allowed to go outside for walks or exercise only when new virus infections fell to the “tens or hundreds, not thousands” per day.

Infection rates in Moscow are still in the thousands range and yet Sobyanin has lifted the lockdown.

On Monday Moscow recorded just over 2,000 new infections while the country saw nearly 9,000 new cases nationwide and over 100 deaths. 

On Tuesday Russian authorities said they had recorded 8,595 new cases nationwide in the past 24 hours, pushing its total tally to 485,253 – the third highest in the world after the US and Brazil

Suddenly on Monday Sobyanin changed his tune and told Muscovites in a video address that “I want to congratulate you on another shared victory,” as he announced the lifting of the lockdown.

From Tuesday, Sobyanin announced, the capital will be ending its digital pass and schedule system for taking walks outside — and within two weeks, bars, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers will all reopen in Russia’s most populous city, which has been on lockdown since March 30.

What or who changed his mind?

All for a parade and an election?

Victory Day parade in Moscow. Tank. Soldiers.
Each year on May 9th Russia holds a Victory Parade that celebrates their victory over Nazi Germany. This year’s parade, the 75th anniversary, was postponed due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Why has Mayor Sobyanin had a change of heart and is now rushing to reopen even as infection levels continue to be stubbornly high in the city he governs?

Many in Russia are saying that Moscow Mayor Sobyanin was forced by Vladimir Putin to reopen Moscow before it was safe to do so for political reasons.

Because of the pandemic, the Kremlin was forced to reluctantly postpone its annual Victory Day parade as well as a referendum whose key provision is removing a constitutional term limit on Putin. If the referendum goes the way Putin wants it to it would allow him to remain in office until 2036.

The parade marking the defeat of Nazi Germany has been rescheduled for June 24, with the referendum taking place a week later. Neither could happen if Moscow was still in lockdown.

“Everything currently happening has to be looked at through the prism of this vote,” said Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Expert Group think tank. “This is all part of the orchestrated drama. First the victory over the coronavirus, then the celebration of the victory over the Nazis, then the culmination (referendum).”

Ahead of the vote, the Kremlin is gearing up to ensure that the referendum passes with flying colors to underscore the legitimacy of Putin’s continued rule, Kalachev added.

Crowds and traffic jams are back on Moscow's streets today. Dog in car.
Crowds and traffic jams are back on Moscow’s streets today

Making sure citizens are in a good mood ahead of the vote is key – and no one was happy under quaratine.

So for now, Muscovites are finally able to enjoy the sunshine, freedom and look forward to their parade.

Meanwhile, Moscow’s exhausted medical workers and hospital staff hold their collective breath and wait for the next surge of virus infections that they know will surely come in just a week or two.

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