Risking death for natural gas COVID-19 is spreading faster in Russia's Murmansk region than in St. Petersburg thanks to 200 cases on a single construction site. Officials are buying ankle bracelets to track those infected.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Murmansk region doubled on April 14 from 131 to 268 people, according to the regional task force for fighting the novel coronavirus. The region now has more infections than all but six of Russia’s other federal subjects, and its case count for April 14 alone was higher than St. Petersburg’s. One COVID-19 patient has died in the area, and 14 have recovered. Another 46 people who have recently returned from abroad or been in contact with confirmed patients have tested positive for coronavirus but are awaiting more results before their cases are confirmed.
An outbreak has emerged at a construction site for the natural gas company Novatek in the Kolsky district, which is near the regional capital. According to Novaya Gazeta, the workers infected were building a new center for large-scale maritime facility construction — in other words, they were on the construction staff for a massive new shipyard that Novatek-Murmansk plans to use to create a fleet of floating gas liquefication plants. The first case on the site was detected April 6. By April 13, 81 people were infected, and that number shot up to 206 the next day. Most of the patients work for the construction contractor Velesstroi, sources familiar with the outbreak told SeverPost. The regional coronavirus task force confirmed to Interfax that “the epicenter is in the company Velesstroy.”
Between nine and 11 thousand workers from across Russia, Belarus, and Turkey are working on the Novatek project, Novaya Gazeta reported. The construction staff themselves said they have not been given gloves or masks; the only protection they have access to is hand sanitizer. Meanwhile, the workers have continued working in close quarters and are unable to follow social distancing guidelines issued by Russia’s federal public health agency, Rospotrebnadzor. A mobile hospital with 50 beds has been erected in Belokamenka, the village nearest to the construction site. The Mezhurechye village collective, which includes Belokamenka, declared a state of emergency on April 11. Murmansk Region Governor Andrey Chibis has argued that there is no reason to stop construction on the Novatek site, Interfax reported.
According to the regional governor, the outbreak in Belokamenka has been restricted to the local area. Chibis first stated that claim on the evening of April 13 — that is, the day before the number of infections at the construction site doubled. He also repeated his assertion that the outbreak has been contained in a video message published on the night of April 14. Chibis confirmed that 206 people have contracted the virus so far in Belokamenka.
The governor warned that he expects a “very serious spike in case numbers” in the region. Chibis said that if the number of infections surrounding Murmansk does rise, then his government will introduce digital travel permits region-wide “to minimize individuals’ movements if they have no cause to move.”
The regional government is buying electronic tracking bracelets to monitor patients confirmed to have COVID-19, according to an order dated April 13. A total of 1.479 million rubles have been set aside from the regional budget to purchase “technical devices and related equipment” for monitoring patients who are recovering from the virus at home. The order also states that the devices in question will be affixed to infected individuals. One of the attachments to the document confirms that the funds will be used to purchase 120 personal tracking devices with Bluetooth connections on their straps as well as 300 spare straps and 30 Bluetooth receivers. Social media users soon began drawing comparisons between these ankle bracelets and those used to track criminal defendants who are placed under house arrest.