March 28, 2020

Coronavirus Makes The Rich and Well-off Disappear From 5th Ave.

An empty street in Manhattan on Thursday.
 An empty street in Manhattan on Thursday. Photographer: Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images
“I haven’t quite figured out how to use the vacuum cleaner yet, but that should happen,” said Vura, a managing director at Guggenheim Securities. “I’m probably doing more of that than I used to. It feels fine.”

He’s working on a laptop at the dining room table. Watching the markets “fills the lack of sports void,” he said. So far he’s made pork roast in the slow cooker, as well as meatballs and shrimp parm.

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“There’s no issue getting an elevator,” Vura said. “And I can see a lot of boxes are stacked up downstairs, so people clearly aren’t here to accept them, and the floors are pretty empty. The gym is closed, the doormen are still working.”

Welcome to the world of those who didn’t go to the Hamptons, Connecticut or Florida to avoid the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit New York City hard. They chose to stay on the Upper East Side, watching their buildings clear out, stores close and doormen don gloves. Some want to be near hospitals. One couple’s second home in Long Island is under construction. Others don’t have the option of another place to go.

Now they’re living in a ghost town, devoid of $100 blowouts and tourists crowding the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Real estate activity has slowed to a trickle. Open houses are canceled, and showings of multimillion-dollar apartments -- when they even happen -- are done virtually. The Valentino boutique has emptied its shelves and racks, while some other high-end stores are boarded-up. Frank E. Campbell says it can webcast a funeral service, and will try to procure flowers as best it can, but there haven’t been requests.

Only Central Park has a sense of bustle and the few businesses open are food markets, restaurants for take-out and delivery, pharmacies and dry cleaners.

William Poll, a specialty food store on Lexington Avenue that turns 100 next year, is testing a new truffle souffle it plans to roll out in about a month, said owner Stanley Poll.

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 The staff at William Poll with a tray of coq au vin, getting ready to start pot pies.

Orders by the dozens and half-dozens are coming in for frozen dinners like chicken pot pie and coq au vin, from locals and customers around the country.

relates to They’re the Last Rich People Left on the Upper East Side
The staff at William Poll with a tray of coq au vin, getting ready to start pot pies.
“The chicken curry, in two weeks we had to make three batches, a batch is 60 dishes,” Poll said from the store’s second-floor office. “It’s been hectic to say the least.”

The store moved to its current location in 1958, when Poll was in college. Now 81, he’s been going to work every day by taxi.

“When I go home at night, 6:30 or so, you just fly down Lexington, you can literally count the number of cars on your hands,” he said. “First Avenue, you have to be very careful crossing the avenue, now you can literally waltz across the avenue and do a dance in the middle.” 

At Jeeves New York on East 65th Street, its laundering and dry cleaning business is down 77% as clients have fled to homes in Pound Ridge, New York, and Captiva Island, Florida. Still, the store picked up 10 bags of bed sheets Monday it normally wouldn’t have.

“Because their house staff isn’t coming in, they don’t know what to do with their sheets,” said owner Jerry Pozniak.

The service, which includes quarantining the laundry for 24 hours, isn’t cheap: $42 a sheet, $85 for a duvet cover and as much as $16 for pillow cases. On Wednesday, he started offering a 20% discount.

“It is exorbitant, but the types of sheets that we’re getting -- you’re looking at $3,000-$4,000 for set,” Pozniak said. “A lot of places do it on automated machinery. We’re using hand irons.”

Four of Juice Press’s Upper East Side stores are open. It started a grocery delivery business, selling kale chips and avocados, though its hottest item at the moment is its $8Ginger Fireball, billed as an immunity booster.

“We sold 25,000 to 30,000 bottles since the crisis began,” Chief Executive Officer Michael Karsch said. The company bought a six-month supply of Peruvian ginger a few weeks ago and has been able to avoid raising the price, even as the cost of ginger has doubled since, he said.

One person swilling the stuff was Mark Mullett. He lives in the East 60s with his husband who works in finance. They have a home in Bridgehampton, but decided to stick it out in the city.

“We can walk to the grocery store, it’s right around the corner,” said Mullett, co-founder of Obe Fitness, an at-home exercise platform. “All of our working materials are here.”

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Central Park on Friday afternoon.Photographer: Mary Lowengard via Bloomberg
He’s rediscovered Central Park. “I saw one woman with a cane,” Mullett said. “She put a sign on it that said, ‘Stay socially distant,’ with a smiley face. She was walking around holding it out.”

On his way to the park, he passes the boutiques on Madison Avenue. Some still have elaborate displays. Others have been entirely cleared out. The RealReal storefront was boarded up as of Wednesday. 

Matthew Bauer, president of the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District, said he hadn’t heard any concerns about looting. Foot traffic to the park and residences above many of the stores help keep the neighborhood safe, he said. The improvement district workers who clean the newspaper boxes and meters are still on duty, and the local police precinct is still doing patrols.

Marianne Rosenberg, who runs the gallery begun by her family in 1878 in Paris, said the exhibit she opened in early March is still up. She puts on her security system, just as she would any other day.

“Right now,” she said, “people have other things to do than go around and steal from art galleries.”

Coronavirus is so Strong it Took an Aircraft Carrier Out of Commission

 The Navy is pulling one of its aircraft carriers out of commission on the U.S. territory of Guam to test the entire 5,000-person crew for coronavirus, after at least 23 sailors tested positive, Navy officials say.

It’s the latest sign that the pandemic that has overloaded hospitals and brought the global economy to a halt is also starting to take a toll on military operations, even as the civilian authorities increasingly turn to the Pentagon for emergency assistance. 

As of Thursday, the Pentagon has said that 574 Defense Department personnel had been confirmed as having the virus, including 280 service members and the first case at the Pentagon itself — a quadrupling from the week before.

The carrier taken out of commission was the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of 11 active carriers in the Navy fleet.

Officials have downplayed any impact of the outbreak on military readiness.

In a statement provided to VICE News, Adm. Mike Gilday, the top admiral in the Navy, said officials were “confident” the carrier would be “able to respond to any crisis in the region.”

But military leaders have also taken extraordinary steps to ensure the outbreak won’t continue to spread, including suspending participation in a number of major exercises that were planned in Europe and Africa.

On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced he was putting a freeze on all military travel and troop rotations for 60 days — a significant departure in tone from the plans announced this week by the White House to “reopen” the economy by Easter. Esper also acknowledged this week for the first time that the virus “may have some impact on readiness,” but assured it would not affect vital operations.

Christine Wormuth, a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation, and a former under secretary of defense for policy, said there’s no way for these changes to not have some impact.

“A lot of what our military forces do both here and overseas is to train so that they stay ready,” she said. “It's the first time I’ve seen the U.S. take enterprise-wide steps in a health event to try to preserve the health of the force so that it can do its job.”

The Navy is emerging as a central focus of the concerns. Naval vessels — not unlike cruise ships — are easy targets for infections, and sailors are accustomed to powering through the low-level respiratory illnesses common to warships, making it harder to stop something like the coronavirus before it spreads.

In 2009, a Veterans Affairs study of an H1N1 outbreak on a naval ship found that after four sailors contracted the bug during a Fleet Week visit to New York, 135 more on the USS Iwo Jima eventually came down with it. The ship was able to continue operations until docking at its home port a few months later. 

Rick Hoffman, a retired Navy captain who commanded two ships during his career, told VICE News that an outbreak on board is “a captain's worst nightmare. There's nothing worse — a fire at sea or an outbreak.”

“We've effectively taken 10% of our aircraft carrier fighting force out of commission.”

“We've effectively taken 10% of our aircraft carrier fighting force out of commission because of a few cases, and it'll be two to three weeks before we know that we've solved it,” he said. Hoffman also said that any pause in the operations of a ship like an aircraft carrier has impacts on the crew’s proficiency. “If I shut down the ship, then every bit of its combat-readiness begins to degrade immediately.”

Mark Cancian, a former Defense Department official and Marine Corps colonel who’s now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he’s less concerned about the short-term fallout of one carrier being out of commission than about what’s yet to come.

“It’s the next step that's really worrisome,” Cancian said. “The fact that you've got a few sailors evacuated, that's manageable; the fleet’s still doing its thing. What will worry me is when you stop deploying ships, or you pull them back to the U.S. because of sickness and infection on board.”

Cancian added, “If they actually shut down Navy boot camp — because 25% of the military turns over every year — and if you stop the input for any length of time, then the military starts getting under strain.”

Good News for Americans: Congress Passed and The Guy on The White House Signed, This is What You will get:

 Congress' $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package is the rare legislative agreement that will have an immediate — and lasting — impact on ordinary citizens across the country.
Why it matters: The 883-page bill, titled the "CARES Act," includes thousands of dollars in direct payments to most Americans, and huge loan packages designed to help keep small businesses and corporations afloat.
Here's what's in the bill:
  • Direct payments: Americans will receive a one-time direct deposit of up to $1,200, and married couples will get $2,400, plus an additional $500 per child. The payments will be available for incomes up to $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples. This is true even for those who have no income, rely on Social Security benefits, or whose income comes entirely from non-taxable, means-tested benefit programs.
  • Use of retirement funds: The bill waives the 10% early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 for coronavirus-related purposes, retroactive to Jan. 1.
  • Small businesses: $350 billion is being dedicated to prevent layoffs and business closures while workers have to stay home during the outbreak. Companies with 500 employees or fewer that maintain their payroll during coronavirus can receive up to 8 weeks of cash-flow assistance. If employers maintain payroll, the portion of the loans used for covered payroll costs, interest on mortgage obligations, rent, and utilities would be forgiven.
  • The unemployed: The program's $250 billion extended unemployment insurance program — "unemployment on steroids," as Sen. Chuck Schumer calls it — expands eligibility and offers workers an additional $600 per week for four months, on top of what state programs pay. It also extends UI benefits through Dec. 31 for eligible workers. The deal applies to the self-employed, independent contractors and gig economy workers.
  • Hospitals and health care: The deal provides over $140 billion in appropriations to support the U.S. health system, $100 billion of which will be injected directly into hospitals. The rest will be dedicated to providing personal and protective equipment for health care workers, testing supplies, increased workforce and training, accelerated Medicare payments, and supporting the CDC, among other health investments.
  • Coronavirus testing: All testing and potential vaccines for COVID-19 will be covered at no cost to patients. 
  • Large corporations: $500 billion will be allotted to provide loans, loan guarantees, and other investments, overseen by a Treasury Department inspector general. These loans will not exceed five years and cannot be forgiven. 
  • Airlines will receive $50 billion (of the $500 billion) for passenger air carriers, and $8 billion for cargo air carriers.
  • Payroll taxes: The measure allows individuals to delay the payment of their 2020 payroll taxes until 2021 and 2022
  • States and local governments will get $150 billion, with $8 billion set aside for tribal governments.
  • Agriculture: The deal would increase the amount the Agriculture Department can spend on its bailout program from $30 billion to $50 billion, according to a press release issued by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.)
The timing: The Senate passed the bill late Wednesday night.
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says the House plans to vote on the package via a voice vote on Friday. This gives members who wish to debate the bill in person the option to do so, while also enabling those unable to return to Washington during coronavirus an option to stay in their home districts If you’re not signed up for this newsletter, change that by clicking this link.
  • Not so good for GOP stuffing the bill with abortion rstrictions :
  • A hard-fought battle over abortion raged just beneath the surface of the Senate’s $2 trillion coronavirus economic rescue plan. And it looks like Republicans won. Provisions tucked into the fine print of the 880-page bill approved by the Senate Thursday take direct aim at Planned Parenthood, the reproductive healthcare provider and eternal GOP target over its role providing abortions. Those details make it harder for the group to shelter itself from the economic storm unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has already profoundly disrupted the American healthcare system.
  •  The bill — which is expected to pass the House of Representatives as soon as today — makes it much more difficult, if not outright impossible, for Planned Parenthood to access a new massive $350 billion lending program aimed at stabilizing the U.S. economy in the midst of the historic downturn, according to experts who spoke with VICE News.
  •  “Anti-choice activists in Congress and the White House used a pandemic response to target sexual and reproductive healthcare and its providers,” said Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. “It is wholly disappointing that Congress failed to support the entirety of the nation’s public health infrastructure.” 
  • The bill puts President Trump’s Small Business Authority in charge of overseeing who gets the money — including deciding whether Planned Parenthood qualifies. Nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees can receive loans, but the SBA gets to rule on whether the dozens of individual Planned Parenthood affiliates scattered around the country should be counted by themselves or as a whole, according to experts who reviewed the bill.
  •  The bill also includes language that blocks state and local governments from allocating coronavirus rescue funds to cover abortion services. 

March 27, 2020

Why Some People Wear Masks and Others Don't?

I was given a mask by a vendor last week and today I will probably get one I can reuse. The reason is because I come in contact with people's package food and some people who probably feel better I wear one. I think it gives you protection on the airborne virus particles from caugh and sneezing. I truly believe the medical and government authorities do not encourage it more because there are none in the market unless you are willing to pay crazy prices. They also fear of what is happening in Australia in which people are stealing face masks by force becuse they can't find them. My personal experience not being in the medical field is that if you can get one because it is given to you or you can get at a fair price then do. If not and you think you are negative, use the sanitizing of what you touch and use gloves and don't sweat it.

A man in China wearing a maskImage copyrightAFP
Image captionPeople wearing masks has become an ubiquitous sight in many places in Asia, including China
Step outside your door without a face mask in Hong Kong, Seoul or Tokyo these days, and you may well get a disapproving look.
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak some places have fully embraced wearing face masks, and anyone caught without one risks becoming a social pariah.
But in many other parts of the world, from the UK and the US to Sydney and Singapore, it's still perfectly acceptable to walk around bare-faced. 
Why some countries embrace masks while others shun them is not just about government directives and medical advice - it's also about culture and history. But as this pandemic worsens, will this change? 

The official word on face masks 

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the official advice from the World Health Organization has been clear. Only two types of people should wear masks: those who are sick and show symptoms, and those who are caring for people who are suspected to have the coronavirus.
Nobody else needs to wear a mask, and there are several reasons for that. 
One is that a mask is not seen as reliable protection, given that current research shows the virus is spread by droplets and contact with contaminated surfaces. So it could protect you, but only in certain situations such as when you're in close quarters with others where someone infected might sneeze or cough near your face. This is why experts say frequent hand washing with soap and water is far more effective.
Removing a mask requires special attention to avoid hand contamination, and it could also breed a false sense of security. 
Yet in some parts of Asia everyone now wears a mask by default - it is seen as safer and more considerate. 
In mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, the broad assumption is that anyone could be a carrier of the virus, even healthy people. So in the spirit of solidarity, you need to protect others from yourself.
Some of these governments are urging everyone to wear a mask, and in some parts of China you could even be arrested and punished for not wearing one.
Security guard in China hold up an infrared thermometerImage copyrightAFP
Image captionIn Wuhan and Guangzhou, Chinese authorities have said those not wearing masks could face arrest
Meanwhile, in Indonesia and the Philippines, where there are suspicions that there are many under-reported cases, most people in major cities have begun wearing masks to protect themselves from others.
For many of these countries, mask-wearing was a cultural norm even before the coronavirus outbreak. They've even become fashion statements - at one point Hello Kitty face masks were the rage in the street markets of Hong Kong. 
In East Asia, many people are used to wearing masks when they are sick or when it's hayfever season, because it's considered impolite to be sneezing or coughing openly. The 2003 Sars virus outbreak, which affected several countries in the region, also drove home the importance of wearing masks, particularly in Hong Kong, where many died as a result of the virus.
So one key difference between these societies and Western ones, is that they have experienced contagion before - and the memories are still fresh and painful. 
Shopper in Hong Kong inspects colourful masksImage copyrightAFP
Image captionIn Hong Kong, you can buy different designs of masks
Meanwhile, in South East Asia, especially in more densely-populated cities, many wear masks on the streets simply because of pollution.
But it hasn't caught on everywhere in Asia - here in Singapore, the government has urged the public not to wear masks to ensure adequate supplies for healthcare workers, and most people walk around without one. There is substantial public trust in the government, so people are likely to listen to such advice. 

The mask as a social nudge

Some argue that ubiquitous mask wearing, as a very visual reminder of the dangers of the virus, could actually act as a "behavioural nudge" to you and others for overall better personal hygiene.
"Putting on a mask every day before you go out is like a ritual, like putting on a uniform, and in ritual behaviour you feel you have to live up to what the uniform stands for, which is more hygienic behaviour like not touching your face or avoiding crowded places and social distancing," said Donald Low, a behavioural economist and professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. 
People in Tokyo wearing masksImage copyrightAFP
Image captionCan wearing a mask act as a daily reminder to yourself and others to practise better hygiene?
Then, there's the idea that every little bit counts in the war the world is waging against the virus.
"We can't say if face masks are ineffective, but we presume they have some effect because that's the protection we give to healthcare workers," said Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist with Hong Kong University.
"If face masks are used on a lot of people in crowded areas, I think it would have some effect on public transmission, and at the moment we're looking for every small measure we can to reduce transmission - it adds up." 
But there are downsides of course. Some places such as Japan, Indonesia and Thailand are facing shortages at the moment, and South Korea has had to ration out masks.
Thai PM Prayuth Chan-ocha wearing a cloth maskImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was recently seen wearing a cloth mask that matched his outfit
There is the fear that people may end up re-using masks - which is unhygienic - use masks sold on the black market, or wear homemade masks, which could be of inferior quality and essentially useless.
People who do not wear masks in these places have also been stigmatised, to the point that they are shunned and blocked from shops and buildings. 
In Hong Kong, some tabloids have splashed pictures on their covers of Westerners not wearing masks and congregating in groups in the city's nightlife district, and criticised expatriates and tourists for not taking enough precautions.
But the discrimination works both ways.
In countries where mask wearing is not the norm, such as the West, those who do wear masks have been shunned or even attacked. It hasn't helped that many of these mask wearers are Asians.
But those societies that do advocate everyone wearing a mask may have a point and increasingly, experts are now questioning the official WHO advice.

Undocumented cases

Firstly, there is some emerging evidence that there are more "silent carriers", or healthy people with the virus who show little or no symptoms, than experts initially thought. 
In China, it is estimated that a third of all positive cases show no symptoms, according to classified Chinese government data seen by the South China Morning Post.
On the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship that docked in Yokohama, about half of the more than 600 positive cases found onboard were found to have no symptoms. 
A similar proportion of asymptomatic cases has been reported in Iceland, which says it is testing a higher proportion of citizens than anywhere else in the world. 
The prevailing belief has been that because these people do not exhibit symptoms, they are not very contagious. But some are questioning this now. Maybe if everyone wore a mask those silent carriers wouldn't turn into spreaders?
A recently published study of cases in China found that "undocumented cases of infection", or those with either mild or no symptoms, were significantly contagious and could have been responsible for nearly 80% of positive virus cases.
It's just one study though, and future research will no doubt add nuance to the overall picture.
The face mask may be a product of recent history, experience with contagion and cultural norm. But as the scale of this pandemic grows, along with evidence and research, our behaviour may yet change again. 
Additional reporting by Helier Cheung.

Nurses in Australia Plea To Stop The Violence for Stealing Masks and Sanitizers

Nurses and midwives in Australia say they've had to take extraordinary measures to stop people from stealing personal protective equipment, such as sanitizer and masks, and that some of them have even become targets of violence.
In a statement on its website, the New South Wales Nurses & Midwives' Association issued a plea to the community as the number of novel coronavirus cases in the country exceeded 2,800, with eight deaths, as of Thursday morning. 
"Please do not treat nurses, midwives and other health workers like they are infectious," the union said, adding bold text for emphasis. "These trained professionals should be respected and must not be abused, spat on or assaulted as they move through our communities, to and from their workplaces."
The message comes Thursday as police in New South Wales issued an appeal for information in an incident in which a woman wearing a nursing uniform was approached by another woman, who allegedly coughed on her, verbally abused her and then punched her in the face, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
In addition, the union said, there had been many instances "where community members have been stealing bottles of hand sanitiser, face masks and other vital resources from hospital wards, leaving nurses and other hospital staff exposed." 
Most hospitals in the state "have had to start cable-tying or using chains so the bottles [of hand sanitizer] aren't going missing from wards," a spokeswoman for the union was quoted by the Herald as saying, "but we are hearing some instances of pallets going missing from deliveries."
The newspaper reports that these incidents include the theft of an entire cart of personal protective equipment at Westmead Hospital in a suburb of Sydney and another in which a pallet of hand sanitizer was intercepted as it was being delivered to a hospital.
Earlier this week, as cases began to spike, Australia's government orderednonessential services and businesses — including pubs, clubs, gyms, movie houses and places of worship — to shut down.

Dems Blocked Trump From Giving Himself A Big Chunk of The Coronavirus $500 Bailout


President Trump hinted last weekend he might just hand himself a big, juicy loan from the $500 billion emergency economic stimulus deal finally reached by Congress and the White House last night.

So Democrats added language to the bill that explicitly stops him.

The massive new $2 trillion rescue package contains a prohibition on businesses controlled by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress, and Trump’s cabinet officials from receiving loans or investments from programs run by the Treasury Department, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced after midnight Wednesday. 

The loans are a desperate measure to keep the American economy from imploding due to the widespread disruption caused by the novel coronavirus, which has shuttered businesses and schools and kept millions of American workers in their homes. 

At a press conference Sunday, Trump refused to promise not to bail out his own troubled hotel businesses once his administration takes control of the crisis fund.

Asked about that possibility, Trump complained that he doesn’t get enough credit for refusing to accept his $450,000 presidential paycheck, and then said, “Let’s just see what happens.”

Trump reported earning over $400 million in income in 2018, but his 11 hotels around the world could face serious problems from the disruption to the hospitality industry caused by the outbreak. 

Six of Trump’s top-seven revenue-generating hotels and resorts have shuttered due to restrictions caused by the spreading virus. Since then, Trump has complained that the economic shutdown caused by the disease is “worse than the problem itself.”

Democrats said they also added other features into the bill aimed at increasing transparency over how the crisis loans will be administered. Lawmakers said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will have to disclose who gets a loan in real time, instead of six months later as Republicans had originally proposed. The bill also creates an inspector general for pandemic recovery to oversee the fund and a panel appointed by Congress to conduct oversight. 

Republicans, who rolled out the original stimulus plan last week, had accused Democrats of holding up desperately-needed stimulus while playing politics and trying to achieve liberal goals like fighting climate change.

Russia is Reporting Very Few Cases of COVID-19, Why?

                               Tourists wear protective face masks as they walk in Red Square near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. The outbreak of the deadly coronavirus threatens to derail a fragile stabilization in the world economy, which had appeared poised to benefit from the phase one U.S.-China trade deal, and signs of a tech turnaround. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

In the last two weeks, it was observed from afar as various places around the world to which I have a personal attachment registered a grim uptick in coronavirus cases, and then, in response, effectively shut down. In Southern California, my mother was the first person I knew to self-quarantine; next were friends in Paris, who, in the span of forty-eight hours, went from eating lunch in cafés and planning a trip to Germany to hunkering down with their young children; then it was the turn of friends and colleagues in New York, where I lived for nearly a decade. During this time, Moscow, the city where I have lived for eight years, has felt like an unlikely outlier. Life here has definitely become stranger, but it is far from completely upended. As of Tuesday, Russia has four hundred and ninety-five official cases of covid-19, a small fraction of the number of cases in major European countries or in the United States.

Vladimir Putin has offered general assurances that the situation in Russia is “under control,” and, although Moscow’s mayor, a Putin loyalist, has closed schools and cancelled public events, the daily ebb and flow of the city hasn’t changed all that dramatically. I’ve mostly stayed at home, but the metro is still running, and shops and restaurants are open. The luxury department store Tsum is having one of its best years for sales in recent memory. Half my friends are observing some form of self-quarantine; the other half doesn’t get what the fuss is about—or, rather, their employers don’t

 Sergey Netesov, the head of the bionanotechnology, microbiology, and virology laboratory at Novosibirsk State University, who was previously a researcher at Vector—the state laboratory that developed the first coronavirus test in Russia—told me, “These are the most dangerous carriers, and I’m worried this contingent is not being caught at all, at least not yet.” 

For every story I heard that suggested a thorough, even overly paranoid, approach—one friend told me of his neighbor who was tested after other residents in their building heard her repeatedly coughing in the stairwell and called the city’s coronavirus hotline—I heard another story that conveyed a less encouraging image, such as that of a nineteen-year-old college student in Moscow who was refused a test, despite experiencing a fever and a persistent cough, even after her university dorm was closed for fear of coronavirus infection. I spoke to a man in Volgograd, a city in southern Russia, who told me that he had come down with pneumonia late last month. 

At the hospital, doctors told him that rates of pneumonia in the city were ten times higher than in previous years—every second or third patient seemed to be suffering from the ailment, they said. “I couldn’t stop coughing,” the man told me. “I was running out of breath every hundred metres—it reminded me of what I’d heard everyone talking about.” Doctors asked him whether he’d been in contact with anyone who had recently been in China or Europe—as far as he knew, he hadn’t—but they didn’t test him for the coronavirus. Stories like this, Vasilyeva said, may suggest either a purposeful coverup or simply a lack of know-how, equipment, and testing abilities, especially in smaller cities and more far-flung regions.

Russia has a higher number of ventilators per capita than many Western countries, which suggests that the country may not be in the worst position as the outbreak spreads. At the same time, according to numerous reports in the Russian press, doctors around the country are worried about a lack of training in how to deal with suspected coronavirus patients, and about a deficit of basic supplies, including masks and gloves. Higher up the chain, Russia’s bureaucracy tends to favor obedience and loyalty over competence. 

The first covid-19 patient in the Stavropol region turned out to be its chief infectious-diseases doctor, who’d ignored quarantine requirements after her return from Spain earlier this month. She visited several hospitals and taught numerous classes at the local medical university before coming down with symptoms and testing positive for the virus. As for the public at large, I’ve observed a kind of weary exhaustion among many Russians toward the state. The country has so many strict and redundant laws, in which the insignificant is made equal with the significant, that outsmarting or ignoring them is an understandable response. That may make it hard for the state to act with credibility and impact as it introduces measures meant to protect the population.

Lurking in the background, as infection numbers rise, is the question of the constitutional referendum scheduled for April 22nd. As I wrote earlier this month, this anodyne-sounding vote is really meant to allow Putin to run for a fifth, and possibly a sixth, term. The Kremlin wanted little fuss around the referendum, but the coronavirus is now complicating things. If infections climb exponentially, public voting will look more and more like madness, which is why the Kremlin has begun suggesting that the vote could be held in June. The Kremlin has also hinted that it may expand at-home voting, which sounds sensible, except for the fact that such a vote would be even more susceptible to fraud and manipulation than a normal Russian election. As with the facial-recognition technology deployed to find quarantine violators, such innovations, ostensibly meant to deal with the coronavirus, may well become regular features of monitoring and controlling public life in years to come.

An aerial view shows a construction site for a new infectious disease hospital, as an additional measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, on the outskirts of Moscow, March 18, 2020.Moscow News Agency/via Reuters
I’ve spent the last days waiting for news of whether, as the case count steadily grows, Moscow will be put under general quarantine. Perhaps Putin will wait to enforce such a measure until after he gets the constitutional stamp he needs to extend his rule by another decade or more. The sudden drop in oil prices this month and the subsequent fall of the ruble will likely push Russia into recession; a widespread lockdown could produce further economic pain, which the Kremlin would consider even more politically costly than a worsening epidemic. What’s clear is that Russia’s response to covid-19 is inexorably bound up with the political needs of the moment—and, as Vlassov told me, that as the government weighs the two “the virus comes second.”

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Coronavirus Makes The Rich and Well-off Disappear From 5th Ave.

  An empty street in Manhattan on Thursday.   Photographer: Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images By  Amanda L Gordon Bloomberg        ...