People have been asking me what’s going on in Russia with respect to the Corona situation. I am a Russia blogger, and I am quite obsessed with Corona, so I certainly need to write about this intersection.
As of March 8, there were 17 confirmed cases in Russia (two Chinese – both several weeks ago, since recovered; an Italian; and the rest Russians – both Chinese and one Russian have recovered). There has also been one case in Saint-Petersburg (an Italian exchange student, whose hostel is now under quarantine along with 700 students), and there has been a case in Nizhny Novgorod today.
The authorities appear to be treating Corona seriously, at least by unexacting international standards.
- Russia sealed its Chinese border as early as January 30, and flights from China have been largely curtailed, with the exception of business visitors and transit flights.
- People returning from high-risk countries (which now include China, South Korea, Iran, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the US) need to submit to a home quarantine lasting for 14 days, with the local police having leave to check up on them anytime during that period.
- Breaking the quarantine carries criminal penalties of up to an 80,000 ruble fine, or expropriation of six months of wages, or 360 hours of community service, or up to one year of prison. If breaking the quarantine leads to a death, there are harsher penalties.
- Several major events have already been called off, such as the annual Saint-Petersburg Economic Forum. (Not like investors are going to be doing much investing this year anyway).
- Although I haven’t seen exact figures, I think that there have been perhaps a couple of thousand people put through quarantine by now.
- Rospotrebnadzor, as of three days ago, has claimed that Russia has performed 51,000 Coronavirus tests. I do not know how credible that is – certainly, if true, it would suggest incredible efficiency for a middle-income country where the epidemic is still likely in its incipient stages (for comparison, as of approximately the same time, South Korea has performed 150,000 tests; the US performed 6,000 tests).
About a week ago, Moscow’s epidemic planning was leaked to the media.
It consists of three stages: Plan A (preventative measures); Plan B (when the first transmissions occur); and Plan C, or State of Emergency (self explanatory).
Plan A includes the aforementioned measures, as well as daily temperature measuring in schools and kindergartens, remote temperature measurements at some metro stations, and cancellation of all major mass events (this hasn’t been fully implemented yet).
Plan B involves the identification and geolocation of all recent contacts and family members of people confirmed to have COVID-19, who are subjected to a 14 day quarantine observed by the police. There are mass disinfections of places known to have been visited by infectees, such as apartments, workplaces, and schools. Public transport is also subjected to regular disinfections. By March 12, it is planned to roll out an information system informing residents of danger zones and SMS messaging of people who have been in contact with COVID-19 infectees. Schools, museums, cinemas, libraries, shopping centers, etc. may be selectively closed. This appears to be similar to what Singapore has practiced, and I personally expect Plan B to be rolled out in another week or two.
If these measures fail to contain an exponentially increasing outbreak, Moscow is to move to an Emergency Situation, which presupposes Wuhan-tier restrictions on public life. These are to include the closure of all non-essential enterprises and organizations, the shutdown of public transport, and restrictions on entering and leaving the city even in private vehicles, and the imposition of a curfew enforced by the police and the National Guard.
Last I heard, the recommendations in this document have yet to be formally approved, though I suspect many of them are already getting implemented.
For those of you who read Russian, the journalist Mikhail Golovanov posted scans from this document on his Facebook page.
Overall, I am now relatively optimistic about Russia’s chances of controlling the epidemic – at least, much more so than for the United States, which gives off the impression of a chicken running about without its head (this represents a major revision of my views since late January). One good thing about having many siloviks in positions of power is that they are a paranoid, authoritarian bunch. To a limited extent, I have even already observed some of this at work. For instance, the director at the institute where I work part-time received an advisory from the Mayoralty against inviting Chinese citizens to conferences several weeks back. So it’s clearly it’s something that high-ranking officials really are concerned about. The relatively large-scale quarantines at such an early stage, the detailed contingency planning, the surprisingly wide-ranging testing, the Soviet legacy of a surfeit of hospital beds (incidentally – a factor that historian Adam Tooze has just remarked upon)… if China was able to control its outbreak, at least temporarily, then I think Russia should be able to do that as well.