The blockage of coronavirus in Moscow was strict and lengthy. Its end was quick and almost complete.
Veterans at the age of 90 joined President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday for a gigantic parade in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Victory, as if face masks and social distances had never been invented.
And throughout the city, when the sun finally set, crowds of people again filled the parks, bars and restaurant terraces, brushing off unpleasant memories, hiding in the room from infection.
Officially, Covid-19 was declared “in retreat.” But with more than 600,000 cases detected nationwide, some fear that such statements will clear the way for Vladimir Putin’s political priorities: a parade and a vote to extend his reign.
How veterans challenged the virus
“The whole country has been preparing all year for the Victory Day parade,” says retired naval officer Alexander Goncharov, assisting WWII veterans in an event postponed from May 9 due to a pandemic.
He said that 28 of them, who took places closest to President Putin, spent more than two weeks in a quarantine sanatorium near Moscow before the parade, with regular health checks and tests by Covid.
On the very day everyone was covered with medals. Very few wore face coatings.
“They were sure that everything would be okay with them. They shook hands with the president without gloves or anything else, ”Goncharov told the BBC.
“If the country’s leader is not afraid, then I’m sure that veterans are also sure.”
Statistics may indicate a more cautious approach.
Back in April, when Mr. Putin said it was too risky to promote the events of May 9, Russia identified some 3,500 cases of Covid every day. Currently, this figure is twice as high, although the incidence rate is decreasing in Moscow.
Shops, hairdressers and even a zoo have opened in recent weeks. Recent restrictions were lifted on Tuesday, including for indoor cafes, playgrounds and gyms.
A day later, thousands of soldiers marched through the cobblestones of Red Square to mark the defeat of the Soviet Union from Nazi Germany, a moment in history that Vladimir Putin called “sacred.”
Reduced Big Day Audience
On this big anniversary, President Putin wanted world leaders to stand with him on the rostrum, emphasizing his assertion of modern Russia as a world power, as its military arsenal was flaunted before them.
The pandemic has put this.
A handful of heads of state who made it to Moscow were mostly from the former Soviet republics. Their ranks were exhausted even more when two of the Kyrgyz delegation gave a positive result at Covid-19, forcing the president to skip the parade.
The public, however, challenged the instructions to watch on TV: mass gatherings are still banned here.
Many stood on bridges and sidewalks, watching tanks roll down the city center. Ignoring the mandatory face mask rule, they shrank behind police barriers to take photos.
No one intervened to smash the crowd. This event has always been conceived as a patriotic impulse; a nice day after a hard couple of months and a reminder of what Vladimir Putin represents.
This was planned one day before the start of voting on the package of constitutional reforms, as a result of which he could run for president twice as much.
Viral warnings before voting
In a recent interview, an infectious disease specialist in Orel in southwestern Moscow severely warned of this newsletter.
“Let the one who wants to vote vote. But there are no more hospital beds, ”Victoria Adoneva told a local newspaper. “There will definitely be [surge in cases]; but we have nowhere to put them. ”
When her words provoked a national scandal, she claimed that they were distorted, but others agreed.
“I think this vote will only help spread the virus,” warns Dr. Anton, a RP doctor in Moscow, who does not want me to use his last name.
His own hospital is working again as usual after treating only Covid-19 cases in the midst of a pandemic – a time he recalls as “terrifying.”
“The image that they create: a drop in the number of patients, the end of restrictions, a parade – all this is wonderful, as if there were no problems. But there are problems, ”says Anton.
Vladimir Putin himself claims that constitutional reform, allowing him to run for election again, is a voice for stability, eliminating alarming speculation about who will succeed him in 2024.
Others see this as a capture of the “window of political opportunity” to ensure that it remains in power, between the apparent “victory” over the virus and before the economic consequences of the pandemic are fully felt.
In Moscow, those who wish to participate can vote online.
According to election observers, this is risky in terms of falsification of the vote, but is physically safer in a pandemic. For those who come in person, the vote spread for a week.
“The problem is that everyone stopped thinking about coronavirus; they think it’s over, ”Dr. Anton worries.
In the end, their president, who spent a couple of months at his residence holding video conferences, now walks without a mask and a handshake.
“People are getting closer and closer to public transport and everywhere,” warns the doctor. “The risk of a new outbreak is very high.”