Moscow eases coronavirus lockdown after Putin says pandemic passed peak

Putin takes part in a video conference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, May 27, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (BLOOMBERG) - Moscow is to ease a lockdown imposed since the end of March as the number of new confirmed coronavirus infections continues to slow, a day after President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia has passed the peak of the pandemic.

City authorities managed "not only to stabilise the situation, but significantly improve it," Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Putin in a televised videoconference on Wednesday (May 27).

"We can already talk about the next steps to get out of this crisis."

Inhabitants of the Russian capital of 12.7 million will be allowed to take walks from June 1, though they will have to abide by a timetable for residential buildings within individual areas of the city, Sobyanin said.

Retailers in Moscow and some services such as dry-cleaners and repair shops will also be allowed to open, he said.

Many people in Moscow have been confined mostly to their homes for nearly two months, other than to make trips to local food stores and pharmacies, exercise their pets or seek medical care. Increasing numbers have begun to ignore the restrictions as the weather has warmed up.

A self-isolation barometer for Moscow compiled by Yandex measured 1.7 on Wednesday on a five-point scale, meaning large numbers of people are on the streets.

A permit system for travelling by car or public transport will remain in place until June 14, Sobyanin said in blog post later on Wednesday.

City parks will re-open and residents will be allowed to exercise outside, the post said. He extended obligatory wearing of masks from shops to all public places.

Sobyanin and city officials have worked in a "responsible, focused, balanced" way to combat the spread of the virus, Putin said. "You were proactive and didn't lose time."

Muscovites will be allowed to take walks three times a week, though there won't be any limitation for those who decide to go out early in the mornings, the Interfax news service reported, citing a person with knowledge of the matter that it did not identify.

The number of new infections in Moscow and of people hospitalised with serious illness from the coronavirus has declined at least 40 per cent since May 12, when Putin lifted a nationwide stay-at-home order, Sobyanin said.

The spread of the deadly pathogen has slowed in Moscow, with 2,140 new confirmed cases recorded in the past day, down from a peak of 6,703 on May 7. The stay-at-home rules and the closure of restaurants, bars, and most retailers have battered businesses in the capital. Sobyanin on May 12 allowed industry and the construction sector to resume activities.

After ending the national lockdown, Putin left it up to individual regional leaders to decide on easing restrictions imposed to combat Covid-19. He met with Sobyanin a day after ordering the resumption of preparations for military parades on June 24 marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II victory that had been postponed from May 9.

With Russia's economic activity declining by a third during a two-month nationwide lockdown, the Kremlin is now seeking to limit the damage. The rate of new infections has started to slow in Russia, which over the weekend slipped to third place in the number of total cases globally, after Brazil and the US.

Diagnoses rose 2.3 per cent in the past day to 370,680. Russia reported 161 deaths in the same period, taking the total to 3,968.

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