Staunton, October 19 – Since December 1, 2019, Moscow media have mentioned the coronavirus more than 6.5 million times, but they mentioned it far more often in April – more than 1.4 million times – than in September – only 491,000, according to research by Medialogii commissioned by Vedomosti (vedomosti.ru/society/articles/2020/10/19/843826-zamechayut-koronavirus).
There are several possible explanations for the decline: the Kremlin may hope that Russians will pay less attention to the virus now, the spring upsurge was centered on Moscow while now most cases are beyond the ring road (regnum.ru/news/3093625.html), and there have been competing stories like Belarus and the Caucasus.
But this decline has contributed to two developments that may prove extremely serious in the longer term: Conspiracy theories about covid and masks have spread and even prompted hackers to take down Russian websites promoting recommended safety measures (mk.ru/social/2020/10/19/izdevatelstva-nad-bolnymi-koronavirusom-v-rossii-dostigli-pika.html).
And the decline in attention to the pandemic has made it less likely that the population will accept what the powers say is true – there won’t be the evidence presented to convince them of that – and as a result, they may be even less inclined to follow recommendations and will change behavior only if compelled.
As one commentator put it, “if people do not believe the powers and that they aare concerned about them, then even the most effective measures of combatting the coronavirus will not work (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2020/10/19/1868797.html).
The current rise in infections and deaths continued, with the number of new infections registered today, 15,982, the highest of all time, bringing the cumulative total to 1,415,316. There were 179 new deaths, not a record but high, boosting that toll to 24,366 (regnum.ru/news/3092907.html).
One new Russian analysis, however, suggested that the real death figures are more than twice as high (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/znat-vse/).
The pandemic continued to spread, with far more closings than openings, and many regions feeling that they are going “underground” again one after the other, a reference to restrictions that are keeping ever larger numbers of Russians away from work and school (regnum.ru/news/society/3092658.html and business-gazeta.ru/article/485059).
While the federal government continued to insist that the schools would remain open, ever more of them closed in the regions, typically on a class by class basis. (It appears that schools where even one class is kept on an in-person basis are counted as open.) And ever more officials are saying that a combination of in-class and distance arrangements will be the norm (regnum.ru/news/3093498.html and regnum.ru/news/3092706.html).
In Moscow, city officials banned mass activities and exhibitions as of October 21 and warned that even harsher restrictions could be ahead (regnum.ru/news/3092982.html and regnum.ru/news/3092840.html).
Meanwhile, experts increasingly are linking the new surge in infections to the reopening of schools (regnum.ru/news/3092968.html), and some are warning that the Kremlin will use the pandemic to justify making it difficult if not impossible for Russians to travel abroad (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5F8CB4FB22033).
Moscow is actively offering the Russian Sputnik-5 vaccine for sale abroad, with the latest market to show an interest being the one in Latin America (regnum.ru/news/3093198.html and versia.ru/v-dekabre-vakcinu-sputnik-v-planiruyut-postavlyat-v-strany-latinskoj-ameriki).
But new tests show that without the vaccine, herd immunity will be almost impossible to achieve as up to 20 percent of those who recover from the infection lose the defensive antibodies within a few months (regnum.ru/news/3092705.html).
On the economic front, the government professed to see recovery proceeding faster than expected while the Kremlin suggested the situation was still unprecedently difficult (https://regnum.ru/news/3093442.html and https://regnum.ru/news/3093200.html) and independent economists suggested that Moscow was entirely unprepared for the impact of a second wave of the pandemic on economic activity (echo.msk.ru/blog/nikolaev_i/2727968-echo/).
The pandemic is affecting both foreign and domestic politics. The Russian Security Council has warned that viruses like the coronavirus can be man-made and used as weapons (regnum.ru/news/3093294.html), and the KPRF has decided to make the government’s mishandling of the coronavirus part of its election message (ng.ru/editorial/2020-10-19/2_7993_editorial.html).
Other pandemic-related stories in Russia today include:
· Because of the absence of foreign tourists this year, Russia’s tourism branch lost approximately 600 billion rubles (nine billion US dollars) (regnum.ru/news/3093635.html).
· The pandemic is making it more difficult for lawyers and other activist to gain access to those behind bars and thus to protect the rights of prisoners (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2020/10/19/843829-dostup-podozrevaemim).
· A senior doctor in Moscow asks plaintively “When will we all finally understand that the coronavirus is forever” and that it will take its place alongside other viruses and bacteria with which humans must live (https://regnum.ru/news/3092654.html)?
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