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COVID-19: Moscow Introduces 'Digital Passes' As Officials Warn Of Infection Spike; WHO Warns Belarus Must Do More

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Moscow police officers stop a man for allegedly breaking self-isolation rules amid a coronavirus lockdown on April 9.

The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 107,000 with over 1.7 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here's a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL's broadcast regions.

Russia

Russian officials have warned of a "huge influx"of new coronavirus infections, saying that hospitals in the Moscow area are quickly nearing capacity.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a television interview on April 11 that "we are seeing hospitals in Moscow working extremely intensely, in heroic, emergency mode."

Peskov described the situation in both Moscow and St. Petersburg as "quite tense because the number of sick people is growing."

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As of April 11, Russia had registered 13,585 coronavirus cases and 106 fatalities nationally. Some critics believe the official figures understate the true situation in the country of some 145 million people.

Peskov added that it was not yet clear if Russia is nearing the peak of the outbreak. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on April 10 that the capital was far from the peak and merely in the “foothills.”

Sobyanin on April 11 signed an order to introduce digital permits for movement around the city as of next week.

Muscovites will have to request a digital permit with a QR code to travel using personal transportation, taxis, or public transportation. Walking without a pass will be allowed.

“Unfortunately this is a necessity,” Sobyanin wrote in a statement on his website. “It is needed to protect the lives and health of many Muscovites, to overcome this calamity, and to return to normal life.”

The system will become active on April 13 and digital passes will be mandatory as of April 15.

Belarus

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged Belarus to do more to contain the spread of the coronavirus or face a "rapid increase" in infections.

Patrick O’Connor, head of the WHO mission in Belarus, said on April 11 that there was "evidence of a rapid increase in [infection] cases" in the country.

Belarus, with a population of about 9.5 million, is one of the only countries in Europe not currently under a mandatory lockdown.

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As of April 11, Belarus had 2,226 officially registered infection cases and 23 fatalities.

"Case counts have doubled about every two to three days, indicating the beginning of community transmission," O’Connor told journalists in Minsk. Such a situation, he said, "warrants new measures."

Health Minister Uladzislau Karanik said on April 11 that 301 health-care workers had tested positive for the virus.

O’Connor said the WHO recommends increased "isolation measures," including postponing mass gatherings and sports events.

Belarus is the only country in Europe still holding professional soccer matches, and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said the country will go ahead with a military parade on May 9 to mark the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Iran

Iran has reopened some “low-risk” businesses in most parts of the country with the exception of the capital, Tehran, where they will restart from April 18, state news agency IRNA reported.

In addition, government offices outside Tehran have also resumed operations, with about one-third of all staff working from home.

IRNA said President Hassan Rohani urged Iranians to respect health protocols as the country struggles to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

"Easing restrictions does not mean ignoring health protocols ... social distancing and other health protocols should be respected seriously by people," Rohani was quoted as saying.

Iran is the Middle East’s hardest-hit country by the global pandemic, with more than 70,000 registered cases and more than 4,300 fatalities.

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The Tasnim news agency reported that the country’s Chamber of Trade Unions has submitted to the government a list of “low-risk” businesses that include patisseries, confectioneries, and other shops whose activities don’t require many people.

The government is also concerned that measures to shut down businesses and halt economic activities to contain the virus could wreck an already sanctions-battered economy.

IRNA quoted government spokesman Ali Rabeie as saying on April 11 that "in the case of a long-term shutdown, some 4 million people could be out of work.”

"Four million nonstate employees face a stoppage or reduction in activities, a reduction of salaries, and expulsion,” Rabeie said.

Iran’s economy is suffering under intense U.S. sanctions after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The United States has offered humanitarian aid to Iran, but the country’s leaders have refused it and demanded that sanctions be lifted.

Iran announced its first coronavirus cases on February 19. Many experts have repeatedly said that the real number of deaths and infections in the country could be higher than reported by Iranian officials.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, Interfax, DozhdTV, and Tasnimnews.com
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