Moscow mayor warns city of ‘serious test’ as coronavirus numbers climb

FILE PHOTO: Cars drive along an embankment of the Moskva River near the Kremlin in central Moscow, Russia April 8, 2020. (COVID-19). REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The mayor of Moscow urged residents of the capital to brace for a “serious test” from the new coronavirus and said the city would introduce a system of permits for movement to help enforce a lockdown, as infection numbers shot up across Russia.

The country reported 1,786 new cases, bringing its tally to 11,917, even as Moscow and many other regions neared the end of their second week in a state of lockdown aimed at halting the contagion. Ninety-four people have died, authorities say.

In the bustling capital of more than 12.5 million that has become the focus of the Russian outbreak, new cases not only jumped 1,124 to almost 8,000, but the number of patients being hospitalised has also doubled in recent days, one official said.

“I can tell you for sure that there has been no peak yet whatsoever. We are at the foothills of the peak, not even in the middle,” Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said in an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency published on Friday.

“I can only say that a serious test lies before us and we need to be preparing for it,” he said.

In a televised address on Friday, Sobyanin said the city would gradually begin introducing a system of passes for residents wanting to move around the city so that authorities could enforce the shutdown.

Residents in Moscow have been told to stay at home unless they need to make essential trips to buy food or access urgent medical care. Police said on Thursday they had already caught 400 people ignoring the order and that they faced small fines.

“The situation started to get worse from Monday. The number of seriously ill patients with pneumonia is growing,” Sobyanin said, adding that he felt he had “no choice” but to introduce a permit system.

“Especially when we see that unfortunately not everyone is following the restrictions that have been set.”

In Moscow, the influx of patients is already pushing hospitals and ambulances towards their limit, said Deputy Mayor Anastasiya Rakova.

Russia recorded far fewer cases of the new coronavirus than many Western European countries in the early stages of the outbreak, but its official case tally began to rise sharply this month.

Officials until late last month were saying that the situation was under control and that there was no epidemic.

Their tone changed however after Sobyanin, who has taken a prominent role in the crisis, questioned the veracity of official figures and said the real situation was much worse than it looked.

Some anti-Kremlin politicians have criticised President Vladimir Putin for taking what they say has been too low a profile in the push to contain and slow the spread of the virus.

The Kremlin has rejected those assertions however, and Putin made his third television appearance dedicated to the crisis on Wednesday, rolling out economic measures to help businesses hit by the lockdown.