Russia has seen a surge in coronavirus cases which has failed to slow for the last month. The country’s response, although initially prompt, seems to have been undermined by mixed messaging from the authorities. The country had actually acted early to stem the outbreak: when the border with China was closed on the 30th January, it appeared that Russia was going to implement further measures to control the spread.
Elsewhere however, the message from Russian State media was that Russia had nothing to worry about. But with Russia looking sure to soon overtaken the US for the highest number of deaths, it now appears this was misguided.
Early measures were also implemented, including closing the border with China, and then the mandatory screening of incoming air passengers with temperature scanners. Not long after, all incoming air traffic was halted to keep the virus out. Hospitals across the country were refitted with ventilators and ICUs expanded.
According to state media, doctors were retrained to deal with the symptoms and pathology of Covid-19, and protective gear and equipment sent to every hospital in the country to ensure they had ample surgical masks, face masks, and medical gloves.
It’s also hard to tell from state messaging how Russia is faring with the outbreak. On April 14, Vladimir Putin had said the country was having “a lot of problems”. On April 19th, however, everything was “under full control.”
Initial optimism was fuelled by the fact that Russia was still reporting low numbers of confirmed cases as the disease spread rapidly across Europe. But the number of infections has surged in recent weeks, leaving President Vladimir Putin to again change direction and label the outbreak an “extraordinary crisis.” This is in contrast with Sweden, where coronavirus numbers were also high, but took a completely different turn thanks to Sweden’s coronavirus management strategy.
State TV at first carried the message that there was no issue. In some corners, the virus was written off as a hoax or conspiracy. Unsurprisingly then, when they were applied on March 25, many people ignored stringent lockdown measures in Moscow. All other major Russian cities were locked down on March 30.
The rules stated that people should only be allowed only to leave their homes to buy essential goods or for emergencies. However, nationwide, as in Moscow, the measures were largely ignored. The mixed messaging may well have contributed to this, and the subsequent surge in cases nationwide.
Despite the early efforts, or promises, to stock hospitals, many doctors are complaining about the lack of protective equipment such as medical protective clothing and medical gloves. Specialist equipment like surgical masks, KN95 masks, FFP2 masks or face shields were not available, and many doctors were making do with improvised equipment.
Official statistics estimate around 290000 cases across the country. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been quoted as saying that he believes as many as 2 percent of Moscow residents could be infected.
If this were true, that would amount to 250,000 people in Moscow alone. And although the official death rate remains relatively low, with only 2,722 deaths so far, there are doubts as to how trustworthy these figures are also.
Drivers and commuters were made to apply for permits in order to travel in a vehicle or use public transport. The police set up checkpoints at various places in the city in order to enforce the new regulations.
It is reported that, due to delays caused by police checking everyone’s phones going into Moscow subway stations, crowds formed, which were followed by a spike of infections a few days after these measures were implemented. So, even the measures that were in place seem to have been badly managed.
It appears that despite their early reaction, a failure to properly communicate the measures needed and general mismanagement have created a fertile breeding ground for the coronavirus.
The government’s lack of a clear message has meant many measures implemented later on in the cycle were either ineffective, or implemented too late. With numbers now soaring, but no one exactly sure which figures to believe, it waits to be seen what is next for Russia and Covid-19.