‘There are lines of ambulances again’ Moscow’s business community fears new restrictions as coronavirus cases rise
The Russian capital is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases once again. Accordingly, the number of hospitalizations is also on the rise. Though the current situation hardly compares to the peak of “third wave” seen over the summer, Meduza’s sources say Moscow officials are mulling over plans to reintroduce tighter public health measures. Several major shopping center have already been issued warnings for turning a blind eye to patrons and sales staff ignoring mask requirements. With this in mind, businesses — and restaurants in particular — are bracing themselves for the return of tougher restrictions. However, restaurant owners also expect that the authorities will hold off as long as they possibly can, for fear of having to hand out subsidies.
On Monday, September 27, the Moscow’s anti-coronavirus headquarters reported 3,387 new cases of COVID-19. This was followed by more than 2,500 new cases on Tuesday and 3,004 on Wednesday. The number of patients hospitalized due to the coronavirus is also growing. On Wednesday, health authorities said that 887 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Moscow in the last 24 hours. This came after 971 hospitalizations were reported on Tuesday — the highest daily increase since August 3, when 1,030 people were admitted to Moscow hospitals due to COVID-19.
A Meduza source at Moscow’s Kommunarka coronavirus hospital confirmed that hospitalizations are going up. “Patient admission has increased by a third, there are lines of ambulances in front of the emergency room again. The patients are moderately severe, it’s the delta strain. [They’re] in the same state as during the third wave,” he said.
“There’s been an increase since the week before last,” said paramedic Dmitry Belyakov, who heads an ambulance workers’ union and works at an ambulance substation in Zheleznodorozhny, a town outside Moscow. A Meduza source from Moscow’s City Hospital No. 52, which admits coronavirus patients, also said that hospitalizations are increasing. However, he underscored that they’re rising relatively slowly so far: “One cannot compare [it to the period] from late May to early June, when it was explosive and everyone was overloaded.”
During the third wave’s peak in the summer of 2021, Moscow recorded more than 9,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 2,000 related hospitalizations daily. Though it appears indicators like these are still a long way off, according to Meduza’s sources, the Moscow Mayor’s Office is already bracing for a fourth wave. At a meeting on September 22, city officials reportedly discussed the possibility of reintroducing tighter public health restrictions, such as partially transferring companies to remote work, requiring QR codes that link to proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test for visiting cafes and movie theaters, and mandatory self-isolation for the elderly and people with chronic illnesses.
City officials have already started cracking down on failure to observe mask requirements. On Monday, the city’s Trade and Services Department Head Alexey Nemeryuk reported that warnings had been issued to several major shopping centers. One of them was the Atrium Shopping Mall, where inspectors found that many visitors and sales staff were either not wearing masks at all or “wearing masks on their chins.” Senior inspector Yan Popovsky from the Association of Administrative and Technical Inspectorates (OATI) told journalists that the Atrium Mall could face fines up to 300,000 rubles ($4,100) or, in the event that of “harm to human health,” be fined up to one million rubles ($13,700) or even be shut down for 90 days.
Other Russian regions are seeing a spike in coronavirus cases, as well. On Tuesday, Udmurtia reported that its hospital bed capacity for COVID-19 patients was nearly 100 percent full; the Saratov Region was at 94 percent capacity and the Rostov Region was at nearly 90 percent capacity. Both Udmurtia and the Perm Krai require QR codes for anyone wishing to attend a public event or go to a cinema, theater, or gym. Similar measures have been taken in the Samara region and there’s plans to tighten restrictions in the Rostov Region, too.
In this context, businesses in Moscow are expecting the authorities to bring back restrictions. “The mayor’s office hasn’t told us anything yet, but back in the summer, when they got rid of the QR codes, they said that there would be a new wave in the fall and that we shouldn’t relax,” said Dmitry Levitsky, the founder of the HURMA Group, which owns and operates restaurants in Moscow and other parts of Russia.
“Nemeryuk hasn’t had any official meetings yet, but everyone understands that everything will be [done] according to the old framework if the numbers grow — first nightclubs, then restaurants, will work until 11:00 p.m.,” he added.
“The decision will most likely be made in a few days, like last time,” said Moscow’s Restaurant Business Commissioner Sergey Mironov, the founder of the restaurant chain Meat&Fish. “Until the last moment, Moscow will try not to close anything and not to impose restrictions, because the restaurant business is already on the verge of exhaustion and in the event of a shutdown it will need to be very heavily subsidized.”
Translation by Eilish Hart