The new coronavirus is finally slamming Russia

The new coronavirus is finally slamming Russia. Is the country ready?

By Richard Stone Mar. 26, 2020 , 10:35 AM

For weeks, Russia seemed to have dodged a bullet. As coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) raged just across the border in China, Russia was virtually untouched, reporting just seven confirmed infections as recently as 10 March. Since then, the number has risen fast: Russia has now reported 840 infections, about two-thirds of them in the Moscow region.

Some health care providers have questioned whether Russia truly kept the novel coronavirus at bay. Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of Russia’s Alliance of Doctors trade union, has pointed out that pneumonia cases in Moscow spiked in January—they were 37% higher than in January 2019, according to Rosstat, Russia’s statistics agency. She asserts that COVID-19 must have accounted for at least part of the increase. Others attribute the increase to a greater number of pneumonia patients, anxious about the new coronavirus, seeking treatment.

With COVID-19 cases now indisputably on the rise in Russia, authorities are moving fast to ramp up detection and hospital bed capacity. Russia’s federal coronavirus coordination council says 193,000 tests based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) have been done to date. Swabs initially had to be shipped to Siberia for analysis at the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR. Russia’s Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor)—the country’s analog of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—has just expanded testing to its regional laboratories and the Anti-Plague Research Institute.

The agency says it has created a reserve of 700,000 test kits that it will regularly replenish. And the coronavirus council announced yesterday it is allotting 1.4 billion rubles ($17.7 million) to VECTOR, the antiplague facility, and several Rospotrebnadzor labs to spur vaccine and drug development.

To cope with a rising tide of patients, Russia’s federal government is building a new hospital on Moscow’s outskirts. Authorities have called on Moscow residents over age 65 to self-isolate at home—an admonishment that Russian President Vladimir Putin, 67, exempted himself from. But Putin on 24 March donned protective gear while visiting a hospital treating COVID-19 patients, and yesterday he ordered all nonessential workplaces to close from 28 March to 5 April, declaring that “the safest thing is to be at home now.” Today, the government suspended international travel into and out of Russia—starting tomorrow—except for charter flights for bringing expatriates home.


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As Russia contends with the mounting COVID-19 threat, Science caught up with Sergey Alkhovsky, a virologist who studies emerging and zoonotic viral infections at the Russian Ministry of Health’s D.I. Ivanovsky Institute of Virology. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: How do you explain the success of Russia’s containment efforts while cases in China were skyrocketing starting in late January?

A: The border with China was closed at the end of January. The border is long, but in total there are only 16 [legal] crossings. All of them were closed, and only one still worked for evacuation of Russians from China. The railway from China was stopped, and all charter flights were canceled. Only a few airlines remained in operation, arriving at one terminal in Moscow with medical supervision of all arrivals and recording of their residence and contacts. By the way, the first two cases in Russia were found on 31 January in two Chinese tourists.

Q: Yet infectious disease wards in the Moscow region are already reaching capacity.

A: Sick people who had contact with foreigners have been isolated in hospitals starting in early February. So, starting last month, hospitals were full of suspected patients, and their relatives were warned about the danger of infection. [Russia’s coronavirus commission yesterday said 112,000 people are in self-isolation in their homes.]

Q: Where are all these patients coming from?

A: There is some community transmission, but the majority of patients who tested positive arrived from Europe. Unfortunately, measures to restrict air travel with Europe were introduced too late, when outbreaks had already occurred in Italy and other countries. [The first genome of the novel coronavirus sequenced from a Russian patient—a woman in St. Petersburg—placed it in a clade circulating in Europe.]

Q: Initially, Russia allowed work on the novel coronavirus in biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) labs. Last week, it relaxed the regulation to allow research in BSL-2 facilities. Why the change?

A: It had become clear that the virus is not so dangerous.

Q: What do you mean?

A: The initial decision of the authorities was to allow work with the virus only at VECTOR. This decision seemed excessive, as it meant many research groups could not get the virus for development and testing of vaccines and antiviral drugs. Now we know more about the virus and these strict requirements are canceled. This will allow for PCR testing in more BSL-2 laboratories and will allow scientists from other institutions to get involved in the work on the virus.

Q: In vaccine and drug R&D?

A: Russia has developed vaccines against tick-borne encephalitis, polio, smallpox, influenza, and other infections. Groups from scientific institutions at Rospotrebnadzor, the Ministry of Health, and the Federal Biomedical Agency have declared they will conduct early vaccine trials in the near future. Within several months, we expect to have two to three vaccine options. But the development of anticoronavirus drugs is still at the very initial stages.

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Richard Stone

Richard Stone is senior science editor at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Tangled Bank Studios in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

COVID-19: New limitations and digital pass system in Moscow and surrounding region

By Irina Anyukhina, Firm: Alrud

The Mayor of Moscow and the Governor of the Moscow Region have issued decrees restricting travel and business activity and introducing a digital pass control system.

The Mayor of Moscow has issued two decrees dated 10 April and 11 April 2020, temporarily suspending in-person activity at most businesses and introducing digital pass control to enforce the COVID-19 lockdown within the city of Moscow. The Governor of the Moscow Region issued resolutions on the same dates introducing similar measures within the broader Moscow Region.

Suspension of business activity

From 13 April to 19 April 2020, in Moscow and the Moscow Region, in-person visits to most businesses is suspended. The full list of the areas and businesses is set out in the Mayor’s decree and the Governor’s resolution. Exceptions are made only for persons who:

  • provide protection and maintenance of facilities;
  • support continuous manufacturing or technological processes;
  • provide payroll services (i.e. calculation and payment of salaries).

In Moscow and the Moscow Region, business activity is suspended in the following areas:

  • the automotive industry;
  • provision of food and drinks (except for takeaway services and delivery);
  • operations involving real estate;
  • professional, scientific and technical activities;
  • law, accounting, and management consulting;
  • architecture and engineering design;
  • advertising and market research;
  • rental and leasing (including car rental, carsharing services and taxi services);
  • employment and staff recruitment;
  • tourism;
  • education;
  • sports, recreation and entertainment;
  • provision of personal services;
  • production of clothing and furniture;
  • construction;
  • manufacturing of finished products.

The above restrictions do not apply to:

  • providers of goods and services for medical use, personal protective equipment, and disinfectants;
  • providers of food essentials;
  • organisations performing construction or repair of medical facilities, metro and railway facilities;
  • organisations providing passenger transportation services that have permission to carry out these activities within Moscow and the Moscow Region.

Subject to the coordination of the work regime with the federal Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Moscow government, exceptions may also be made for:

  • organisations of the defense sector and the aircraft industry;
  • subsidiaries of Roscosmos and Rosatom corporations;
  • organisations carrying out the state defense order;
  • IT providers ensuring the activities of the abovementioned organisations.

Organisations that continue working must minimise the need for employees to be physically present to carry out the relevant activities, in accordance with technological features.

Digital lockdown pass system

The Mayor and the Governor have also issued decrees implementing a digital pass system for movement by personal and public transport in Moscow and the Moscow Region. From 15 April, such movement is possible only with a digital pass or an official identification card (e.g. a military identification card or a personal security card).

Digital passes can be either for one day (e.g. for visiting a medical provider), or without restrictions on the number of trips for performing employment duties or providing services (performing works) under civil law contracts.

Employers should bear in mind that:

  • For movement using any type of transport, employees must obtain digital passes.
  • Employees may obtain the pass in Moscow by applying to, by calling the help desk at +7 495-777-77-77, or by sending a text message to 7377. In the Moscow Region, the pass can be obtained by applying on the website, by calling the help desk at 8-800-550-50-30, or by sending a text message to 0250.
  • Employees’ passes are valid until 30 April 2020, with no restrictions on the number of trips or the route of movement.

The digital pass issued in the city of Moscow is also valid in the Moscow Region. Accordingly, the pass issued in the Moscow Region may be used for travelling on routes involving a visit to Moscow.

In the Demise of the Taliban Peace Talks, Russia Is the Winner

Even as it paints itself as an ally in Afghanistan, the Kremlin is busy undercutting Washington.

Over the weekend, the prospects of a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban seemed to fall apart. That is a major setback, since it will likely delay a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and could lead to an escalated Taliban offensive on Afghan government-held territories. But one player—Russia—might benefit.

In an otherwise dark period for U.S.-Russian relations, Afghanistan seemed to have recently emerged as a rare bright spot for bilateral cooperation. After a visit to Moscow in May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described achieving a “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan as a shared interest of the United States and Russia. Dialogue between U.S. and Russian officials on Afghanistan, which was largely frozen after the collapse of the Northern Distribution Network—a rail network passing through Russia that supplied U.S. forces—in 2015 is now commonplace. Russia had even offered to act as a guarantor for any future U.S.-Taliban peace agreement. Although such a deal now seems to be off the table, Russia’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, stated that he believes U.S.-Taliban peace talks are “suspended” but not “dead,” and he announced Moscow’s plans to consult with the United States on the future of the negotiations.

Although the de-escalation of tensions between the United States and Russia, which had risen last year due to Moscow’s alleged arms transfers to the Taliban, is a positive development, Russia should not be trusted as a partner in Afghanistan. The collapse of the U.S.-Taliban peace talks provides an opening for Russia to reassert its diplomatic presence in the country, and this prospect should concern U.S. policymakers. Russia’s subversion of the authority of Afghanistan’s internationally recognized government and propagation of disinformation about U.S. intentions in Afghanistan reveal that Moscow remains a dangerous adversary in the region.

Ever since Russia overruled strenuous objections from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and invited a Taliban delegation to Moscow in November 2018, Russia’s relationship with the Afghan government has deteriorated. Kabul’s frustrations with Moscow have boiled over into public statements. For example, in February, Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Sebghat Ahmadi openly described Kremlin-backed negotiations as unhelpful to the peace process. As Russia fears that its poor relationship with the Afghan government could lead to its diplomatic isolation, Moscow has subverted Ghani’s authority by throwing its weight behind opposition figures and strengthening its relationship with the Taliban.

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As long as the United States still wants some kind of settlement between Kabul and the Taliban, Russia’s overt support for opposition figures is counterproductive, because it risks undermining Afghan public trust in an eventual peace agreement. Russia’s efforts to bolster the influence of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai should be viewed with particular concern. Through his participation in Kremlin-hosted peace negotiations and regular interviews with Russian state media outlets, Karzai has repeatedly raised doubts about Washington’s ability to constructively contribute to Afghan security. As Karzai retains popular support among Afghanistan’s Pashtun community, his anti-American rhetoric could turn this group against any residual presence of U.S. intelligence personnel after the United States leaves the conflict.

Meanwhile, the Moscow-based Council of Afghan Society’s efforts to facilitate dialogue between Afghan opposition figures and the Taliban also undercut the peace process, as they sowed discord among supporters of Afghanistan’s U.N.-recognized government. In February, Ghani accused Afghan opposition figures who participated in these Moscow-hosted talks of placing their political ambitions ahead of peace, and in May, Amrullah Saleh, who is campaigning to be Ghani’s vice president in upcoming presidential elections, accused opposition participants of betraying the Afghan public. By polarizing representatives of the Afghan government along pro- and anti-Ghani lines, Russia has inadvertently facilitated the Taliban’s efforts to frame the Afghan government as a divided, illegitimate authority that does not represent the Afghan people.

Russia’s efforts to strengthen its diplomatic partnership with the Taliban might also have fueled the militant group’s expansionist ambitions, at a time when the United States had urged the Taliban to abandon its goal of recreating an Islamic emirate in exchange for a U.S. withdrawal. Although Russia officially labels the Taliban as a terrorist organization, influential Russian experts, such Oleg Barabanov from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, are increasingly inclined to view “moderate” Taliban members as trustworthy partners. This perception could cause Russia to lobby for expanded Taliban influence over Afghanistan’s future and indirectly reward the Taliban’s expansionist activities, as Moscow routinely invokes the Taliban’s territorial reach as a justification for deepening the group’s diplomatic representation.

In addition to complicating the path to a lasting peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Russia continues to spread disinformation about U.S. objectives in Afghanistan that is aimed at eroding Afghan public trust in U.S. security guarantees. Russia’s state media outlet Sputnik is a leading agent of such disinformation, as it operates a Dari-language website, but Sputnik’s efforts are frequently complemented by statements from the Russian foreign ministry.

Russian state media outlets and officials have frequently floated the conspiracy theory that the United States is covertly supporting the Islamic State of Khorasan Province in Afghanistan. The Russian foreign ministry has alleged that unidentified helicopters use Afghanistan’s NATO-controlled airspace to supply weapons to the Islamic State branch and that U.S. special forces seized prison documents to obfuscate Washington’s covert alignment with the group. Russia has cast similar negative aspersions about the U.S. government’s support for the postponement of Afghanistan’s elections. In an official statement in January, the Russian foreign ministry accused the United States of trying to assume control over Afghanistan’s electoral process and said that Ghani’s government was placing U.S. interests ahead of the demands of Afghan society.

Even as the United States and the Taliban seemed close to a deal. Russia’s disinformation machinery continued operating in full gear. Sputnik framed U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed retention of intelligence personnel in Afghanistan as a facade for the preservation of an eternal U.S. presence in the country. Russian state media outlets also circulated the narrative that the United States was deceiving the Taliban with false promises of a military withdrawal. These messages aligned closely with long-standing Russian fears of a U.S. desire to maintain a permanent base in Afghanistan from which to plunder Central Asia’s mineral resources and encircle Iran. Since the U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations broke down, pro-Kremlin news organizations have accused Trump of using the death of a U.S. soldier at the hands of the Taliban as an excuse to abandon the peace talks and argued that the United States backed out of the negotiations so it could blame the Afghan government if the Taliban recaptured Kabul.

As U.S. policymakers figure out how to reboot or replace the recently collapsed peace process, Washington should view Moscow as a potential spoiler of, rather than a partner for, its plans in Afghanistan. Russia’s willingness to engage with the United States in the country is principally aimed at highlighting its great power status and should not be viewed as real support. Although Russia is genuinely concerned about the spillover of terrorism from an unstable Afghanistan to Central Asia, it principally seeks to counter that threat by consolidating its hegemony over Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and strengthening its influence in Afghanistan by backing pro-Kremlin political figures.

The collapse of the U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations is likely to lead to a revival of alternative diplomatic processes on Afghanistan, and Russia’s Moscow-format talks will undoubtedly benefit from this trend. As Russia’s diplomatic clout grows, the United States should formulate a strategy to combat its subversion of Ghani’s government, counter Kremlin disinformation tactics, and restrict Moscow’s ability to undermine Washington’s interests in Afghanistan.

Samuel Ramani is a doctoral researcher at the Department of Politics and International Relations at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford. Twitter: @samramani2

Where to pass the tick for analysis in Moscow and the Moscow region

The Metro is the easiest and the most reliable way get around Moscow. Its layout is quite simple. Radial lines, which cut across the city in most directions, are joined together by a circular line, which also joins together the city’s largest railway stations. Transport system also includes Monorail, Moscow Central Circle (MCC) and Moscow Central Diameters (MCD). Each radial line has its own name, number and colour on the metro map, and you can get from practically any station to another one with a maximum of three transfers.

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To pay for your ride, buy smart-card («Ediniy» or «Troika») from a cashier in the metro (monorail, MCC, MCD) station vestibule.

Recline smart-card to a yellow circle on the automatic gates, when green light is on or displays the number of remaining trips — pass through the gate.

No matter how long you ride or how many transfers you make, you pay no extra fee. If you expect to use the metro for several weeks in a row, you can save some time and money by buying a monthly pass.

To help you find your way, there are several multicoloured metro maps in every car, and a loud speaker that announces the name of the station at every stop. The doors open and close automatically.

There is a first-aid station and police post at every station. For information you can turn to any metro employee — they wear blue uniforms and red hats.

Mobile communication (GSM) works at stations of the Moscow underground. Free Wi-Fi («MT_Free») available in trains.

The Metro starts work at 06.00 a.m., but stations open at 05.30-05.40 a.m. At 01.00 a.m. the entrances close and passengers must complete their transfers. Last train leaves also at 01.03 a.m.

Moscow Monorail (line 13) works from 07.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m. every day.

Moscow Central Circle (MCC, line 14) works from 05.45 a.m. to 00.30 a.m. every day.

Transfer between Metro, Monorail, MCC and MCD lines is free 90 minutes from first enter.

Ex Works (EXW) vs. Free On Board (FOB): What’s the Difference?

Ex Works (EXW) vs. Free On Board (FOB): An Overview

Ex works (EXW) and free on board (FOB) are both international trade terms, known as Incoterms that dictate the responsibilities of buyers and sellers, including which parties are required to cover all costs and arrangements related to the shipping of goods.

With ex works, the seller is not obligated to load the goods on the buyer’s designated method of transport. Instead, the seller must make the product available at a selected location, and the buyer must incur transportation costs. With free on board, the seller does have to load the goods on the buyer’s method of transport at the shipping point and may be responsible for them throughout the trip and to the final destination. Free on board means the seller retains ownership and responsibility for the goods until they are loaded ‘on board’ a shipping vessel. Once on the ship, all liability transfers to the buyer.

Key Takeaways

  • Ex works and Free on Board are both international shipping terms.
  • With Ex works, the seller makes the product available at a designated location, and the buyer incurs transport costs.
  • With Free on Board, the seller is responsible for the goods until they are loaded on a shipping vessel; at which point, all liability transfers to the buyer.

Ex Works

Shipping using the designation of ex works (EXW) indicates the seller has a responsibility to make sure the cargo the buyer can access and pick up the cargo at their place of business. Transportation costs and associated risks are no longer a burden for the seller under the EXW option, and this favors the shipper.

For example, say a seller of electronic products is located in San Francisco, Calif. The buyer is located in New York, N.Y. The buyer and seller agree on the price for these products and sign an ex works trade agreement. The buyer wants to pick up the products in two weeks, and the seller must have the products ready for transport. However, the buyer is responsible for all of the further costs associated with delivering the goods to New York City. The buyer pays for all the transportation costs, and if the products get lost along the way, the seller is not liable.

Free On Board

Unlike EXW, when a buyer and a seller enter a free on Board (FOB) trade agreement, the seller is obligated to deliver the goods to a destination for transfer to a carrier designated by the buyer. The location designation in the FOB trade agreement is the point at which ownership is transferred from the seller to the buyer. The responsibility often shifts at this arrival location. The seller is responsible for transporting goods up until this point, but the buyer may or may not be responsible for all transportation arrangements from this point to his location, depending on the terms of the agreement.

For example, suppose a buyer located in Los Angeles, Calif., wants to purchase computers from a seller located in Chicago, Ill. The buyer and seller sign a FOB trade agreement. The buyer designates that the computers be shipped by airplane, and the seller is obligated for the transportation expenses associated with transporting the computers to the airport located in Los Angeles. At this point, the responsibilities shift and the buyer is responsible for all further costs related to transporting the computers to the final destination. The buyer is also liable for any damages that may occur during this phase of the shipping process.

Special Considerations

Contracts involving international transportation often contain abbreviated trade terms that describe conditions such as the time and place of delivery, payment, when the risk of loss shifts from the seller to the buyer. Other items include who pays the costs of freight and insurance considerations. The more common terms are called Incoterms, which the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) publishes.

However, companies that ship goods in the United States must also follow the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Due to their being more than one set of rules, the parties in a contract must specify which governing laws they used for a shipment.

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