Coronavirus: Russia resists lockdown and puts hope on vaccine

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By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Moscou

media legendThis ice rink is one of five temporary hospitals in Moscow

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The counters at the Krylatskoye Ice Palace are closed, but the ice rink is full: no speed skaters and hockey players, but rows of coronavirus patients.
It is one of five Moscow establishments transformed into giant temporary hospitals that are now kicking into action as the number of new Covid cases hits daily records.
The Kremlin calls the infection rate “worrying” – nearly 21,000 new cases were announced Tuesday across Russia – and admits that health facilities in some regions are “overloaded”.
But he is still resisting a national lockdown, anxious to protect the economy and optimistic that Russia’s candidate for a Covid-19 vaccine can help chart a way out of this crisis.
The ice is gone for now, but the Ice Palace hospital is equipped with the latest digital technology and the chief medic is emphatically optimistic.

“Every day we admit between 40 and 50 patients, but we also release the same amount,” Andrei Shkoda told the BBC, under a giant screen that once displayed figure skating scores: last winter, before Covid.
This year he is showing films of Soviet classics to Mr. Bean that patients can watch from their beds.
The field hospital was built in a month during the first wave of Covid cases and has never been used. Now, a quick sweep from the spectator stands shows that around a third of its 1,347 beds are full.

Critical role of field hospitals

The standby capacity is in stark contrast to some of the areas in Russia where even state television now reports on provincial hospitals, stretched at best, full to overflowing. The same goes for some morgues.

image copyrightGetty Images

legendHospitals across Russia are overcrowded with queues like Omsk last week
Moscow still has the highest number of new cases and there are periodic queues of ambulances at clinics in the city, long waits for free Covid tests or for doctors to make home visits.

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But field hospitals, partly made up of doctors from the regions, play an essential role, in particular by allowing regular hospitals to continue planned health care.

Dr Shkoda says Covid patients in this fall’s peak cases are noticeably younger and also sicker, after treating themselves at home.
“In the spring, everyone was scared, so they came for help earlier. This new wave is probably due to the fact that many people have stopped taking precautions, ”he said.
Doctors in protective gear
legendDoctors say they have good stocks of protective equipment
If so, it was Russian politicians who set the tone.

Masks are now mandatory in public

This summer, they hailed a “victory” over the virus, trying to boost morale ahead of a constitutional reform vote that gave Vladimir Putin a way to stay in power.
Social life here in the capital quickly came back to life, hardly a mask to be seen.
Reimposing unpopular restrictions, now that infections are on the rise again, is not that easy.
Masks are now mandatory in public transport and other public spaces
legendMasks are now mandatory in public transport and other public spaces
Russia’s health watchdog recently made face covering mandatory in all public spaces, imposed fines, but most other anti-virus measures are left to regional governors.
In Moscow, that means 30% of office staff work remotely, older and vulnerable people advised to stay home, and high school students studying online.

Is a mass vaccination program imminent?

This weekend, the city’s mayor admitted that the infection rate had not stabilized as he had hoped. But instead of a lockdown, there is a lot of talk about Sputnik V, one of the many Russian Covid-19 vaccines in development.
When Pfizer announced on Monday that its own vaccine was over 90% effective, Russia’s health ministry immediately said the same for Sputnik, despite still being in the midst of mass trials.
The ministry also said clinics would soon receive their first “industrial-scale” shipments of Sputnik V, suggesting that a mass vaccination program is imminent.
A clinic in southern Moscow already has racks containing the tiny vials stored in large freezers. The team there administered about 50 jabs per day to some of the 40,000 volunteers enrolled in the trials.

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Natalya Shendryaeva

BBC

If we get a vaccine that prevents people from getting this disease, it will be great happiness for all of us

Natalya Shindryaeva
Chief Physician, Polyclinic 2 in southern Moscow

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In a room down the hall, Alexei rolled up his sleeve for the second of two injections. The first, three weeks earlier, had caused no adverse reactions.
“Our bosses have asked us to participate,” said the emergency doctor who has been working on Covid cases since April. “I saw a lot of people who got sick, and that’s not nice,” Alexei said. “So I’d rather not have it. ”
Another volunteer in the queue said he was the only one in his job who agreed to participate. “The others are afraid,” he shrugged.
Many doctors themselves have been invited to register as volunteers for the Sputnik V trials.
legendMany doctors themselves have been invited to register as volunteers for the Sputnik V trials.
Dr Shkoda has no such reservations. He says he and seven colleagues got the bites and describes his subsequent antibody level as “good”.
“Covid is not going anywhere, he lives with us,” says the chief doctor, visiting his ice hospital in front of doctors in giant white suits and respirators and patients plugged into oxygen tubes.
Although he faces the consequences of the coronavirus every day, the doctor is not pushing for another lockdown.
“I don’t think we need more stringent measures, but everyone has to act responsibly,” he says, before being sprayed with disinfectant and leaving the red zone.
“Then it’s the vaccine that will help us beat that in the end. ”

Related topics

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  • Russia

  • Coronavirus lockdown measures
  • Development of a vaccine against the coronavirus
  • Moscow

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