Staunton, April 3 – In Soviet times, any closure of public transport would largely preclude the movement of people because so few had cars. Now, far more do, making the cutbacks in air and train service far less effective a means to limit the movement of people and thus the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Aeroflot has significantly cut back the number of flights within the country and Russian rail has done the same with far fewer runs being made now than only a month ago (lenta.ru/news/2020/04/03/rzhd/ and jamestown.org/program/with-ever-more-flights-canceled-many-parts-of-russia-isolated/).
That has left many parts of the Russian Federation isolated from one another, especially distant ones where the absence of roads mean that planes and trains are the only real means of travel. But residents of cities, many who now own cars, are using their vehicles to flee to rural areas where they assume the risks and controls on them will be less.
According to Moscow officials, more than 500,000 cars left the city between March 27 and March 29 and did not return, carrying out of the city approximately 850,000 people or nearly seven percent of the capital’s population (newizv.ru/news/society/03-04-2020/moskvu-pokinuli-850-tysyach-zhiteley/rrr and interfax.ru/moscow/702360).
Some may have been going to their dachas, although the weather is still cold for that, but many are going into cities and towns nearby where restrictions are not as great as they are in the Russian capital. In so doing, they are maintaining their freedom of movement but only at the cost of spreading the virus and infuriating others who will be their victims.
That threat of Muscovites arriving by car with the coronavirus on board explains much of the demand by some regions to close themselves off as Chechnya already has. And if the pandemic becomes worse, it is likely to lead not only to more such demands at the regional level but to the restoration of the hated GAI system to prevent people from using cars to move around.