Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted the recommendation of his cabinet and will order a one-week lockdown at the end of October, as the nation grapples with surging COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
The government reported 1,028 deaths from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours—the biggest 24-hour total since the pandemic began. Coupled with a low vaccination rate—just 32% of the nation’s 146 million people—the deaths are impelling Putin to take more serious measures to address the surge.
Russia has three different vaccines available; none of them are as effective as Western vaccines. Also, the government has been bad-mouthing Western vaccines, leading to a general distrust of all vaccines.
Until now, the Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown like the one early on in the pandemic that dealt a heavy blow to the economy and sapped Putin’s popularity, empowering regional authorities across the country’s 11 time zones to decide on local restrictions, depending on their situation.
Many of Russia’s 85 regions already have restricted attendance at large public events and limited access to theaters, restaurants and other venues. Some have made vaccinations compulsory for certain public servants and people over 60.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted that the situation is “very sad,” noting that the level of vaccination in those regions was particularly low.
Democrats—including the president himself—questioned the safety of vaccines approved by Donald Trump’s FDA in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential elections. We’ve seen firsthand how sowing doubt about the safety or efficacy of a vaccine can lead to vaccine hesitancy.
But for Russians in Moscow, life has been pretty much normal since last year.
In Moscow, however, life has continued as usual, with restaurants and movie theaters brimming with people, crowds swarming nightclubs and karaoke bars and commuters widely ignoring mask mandates on public transportation even as ICUs have filled in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said unvaccinated people over 60 will be required to stay home. He also told businesses to keep at least a third of their employees working remotely for three months starting Oct. 25.
Putin’s shutdown gambit is meant mostly for show. People want politicians to show that they feel their pain and are “doing something about the problem.” Whatever effect a shutdown will have on mitigating the spread of the virus will be more than offset by the loss of economic activity and deterioration of people’s mental health. This much we’ve learned from shutdowns in America.
It’s why a shutdown isn’t likely here. In the future, even a strain of the coronavirus that resists vaccinations won’t initiate another shutdown. We’ve learned a painful—and valuable—lesson.
It’s a shame we couldn’t have learned it before so many lost so much.