Moscow Tightens Lockdown With Digital Permits as Virus Spreads
(Bloomberg) -- Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin tightened the lockdown on Russia’s capital, introducing a digital permit system for trips by vehicle this week after voluntary restrictions failed to curb travel and keep people off the streets.
Starting Wednesday, anyone using a car or public transport in Moscow or the surrounding region must have a digital pass, Sobyanin said in a statement Saturday. People can travel by foot without the permits “for now,” he said.
The announcement came just one day after the mayor said that the city could require people to have permission to move around their neighborhoods. Officials have warned that Moscow’s health care system is increasingly stressed by the continued spread of the coronavirus despite a stay-at-home order issued March 30.
“The pass system for moving around the city makes for necessary restrictions and inconveniences,” the mayor said. “But when it comes to the health and life of a huge number of people, there is no choice. Especially when we see that, unfortunately, not all comply with the established restrictions.”
Moscow, whose population of 12.7 million makes it Europe’s biggest capital, largely shut down when Sobyanin ordered all non-essential businesses closed and people to remain in their homes. But after nearly two weeks, more people have started ignoring the orders, according to a self-isolation index based on location data gathered by internet company Yandex NV.
Data from cell-phone operators show that 3.5 million Muscovites were outside for more than 6 hours on April 10, City Hall’s coronavirus HQ said in a statement. A further 4.4 million stayed at home, demonstrating a “responsible attitude to self isolation.” On Saturday, 1,358 violations of stay-at-home rules were registered, according to the HQ.
While some European cities require people to carry a written note describing where they are going whenever they leave the house, Moscow’s system appears more similar to some in China, where many places still require QR codes in order to monitor residents’ movements after lifting stay-at-home rules.
An app developed by Russia’s Communications Ministry to generate electronic passes was available on the App Store and Play Market. It had 1.2 stars of a possible five by early afternoon Sunday on the latter.
Sobyanin announced several other measures to tighten the lockdown from April 13 to 19, including halting all construction work, shutting down the world’s biggest car-sharing program and delaying all non-essential municipal spending.
To help enforce restrictions on movement, authorities can rely on surveillance technology already in place. Moscow has one of the biggest facial-recognition camera networks in the world.
“The pandemic plays into the authorities’ hands as they seek to test their capabilities,” said Artem Kozlyuk, the founder of Roskomsvoboda, a Moscow-based group that campaigns against online restrictions. Yet, the system may not be ready to be used for mass surveillance yet. “These are long-term plans,” he said.
Moscow’s hospitals are already working at capacity due to the number of coronavirus cases, with 1,300 admissions a day currently, up from about 500 earlier in the crisis, Sobyanin said. The city has converted 25 clinics to deal with coronavirus patients and plans to double that number soon, he said.
The entire Russian health-care system is facing a shortage of protective gear and ventilators, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said in an interview on Rossiya 24 Friday.
About two-thirds of Russia’s coronavirus infections are in Moscow. This month, the city is planning to open a new 500-bed virus hospital that it built from the ground up in a matter of weeks.
Sobyanin, who has pushed for unpopular measures to slow the epidemic’s spread, has consistently struck a more pessimistic tone than many in the government. He told state-run RIA Novosti in an interview published Friday that Russia was still far from the peak of coronavirus infections.
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