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COVID-19: Russia Again Reports New Record In Cases; Belarus To Go Ahead With Victory Day Parade

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A man lays flowers and pays tribute to medical workers who have died from COVID-19 at a makeshift memorial in front of the local health department in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 246,000 with almost 3.5 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

Russia on May 3 registered more than 10,600 new coronavirus infections, marking a fresh one-day record increase amid expanded testing.

New infections jumped by 10,633 to 134,687 cases, the seventh-highest number globally, Russian authorities said. It is the fourth day in a row with a record number of infections after 9,623 were registered on May 2.

Russia is now the European country with the most registered new infections. But the official fatality rate is low in comparison to countries like Italy, Spain, and the United States.

Fifty-eight people died over the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 1,280, according to official figures. More than 15,000 people in Russia have recovered from the virus.

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Among the infected is Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who announced on April 30 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Mishustin’s spokesman, Boris Belyakov, said on May 3 that the prime minister feels fine and is regularly speaking with officials by phone.

President Vladimir Putin has said the situation inside the country remains "very difficult.”

St. Petersburg Governor Aleksandr Belgov said that 44 people have been infected with COVID-19 at a local psychiatric hospital, including 28 patients and 16 workers.

Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said the Russian capital, which has emerged as the epicenter of the contagion, was not yet past the peak of the outbreak and that he may further restrict the number of residents who can travel around the city.

“If we see any threat, of course, we will not hesitate for a minute. We will come out with a proposal to tighten these measures,” he told state television on May 2.

Muscovites can leave their homes to go to the grocery store, the pharmacy, throw out trash, and walk their dogs. They need a government-issued digital pass to use public or private transport.

With the arrival of the May holiday season, Russian law enforcement are using drones to find quarantine violators in Moscow’s forested parks.

More than half of Russia's newly recorded cases -- 5,948 -- are in Moscow, bringing the capital's total to 68,606. Sobyanin said that about 2 percent of Moscow residents -- or more than 250,000 people -- have the coronavirus.

Officially, Moscow has a population of 12.7 million but the real figure is believed to be higher.

Moscow made the use of digital passes for travel mandatory on April 15, leading to huge lines at subway stations all around the city.

Some are now questioning whether the recent spike in the city's infection count is partially due to the crowded conditions on that day. The virus has an incubation period as long as two weeks.

However, Moscow's headquarters for monitoring of the coronavirus said the jump in registered cases is driven in part by greater testing and quicker turnaround of the results. The city now has 14 centers analyzing samples compared with just one previously, it said in a statement on May 2.

The headquarters also said that the greater testing is enabling the city to find people with the infection at an early stage and treat them before it becomes severe. That has enabled the city to keep the number of hospitalized stable at 1,700, even as the number of cases continues to grow, it said.

Despite the steady increase in cases, the government has indicated it could gradually lift restrictions from May 12, but the easing will depend on the region.

Belarus

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said his nation will hold its annual Victory Day parade in the capital on May 9 despite concerns over the spread of the coronavirus inside the country.

“We cannot cancel the parade. We simply can’t,” Lukashenka said on May 3, adding that some of those who fought against the Nazis also died of viruses and other diseases.

“And think what people will say. Maybe not immediately, but the next day or two days later, they will say that we were afraid,” he said about canceling the parade.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that nations impose social-distancing measures and avoid large public gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19, which is easily transmitted from person to person.

The WHO warned in late April following a visit to Minsk that COVID-19 had “entered the community transmission scenario" in Belarus and called on the government to take stronger measures.

Belarus currently has more than 16,705 registered cases of COVID-19 and 99 deaths.

However, Lukashenka has publicly dismissed concerns about the dangers of the virus several times.

Victory Day commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 and is the most important national holiday in Belarus and other former Soviet states.
Belarus lost about one-quarter of its population during the war.

The May 9 parade held in Minsk will feature a column of mechanized weaponry, troops, and aerial units. The parade is expected to include more than 3,000 military personnel and more than 180 pieces of military hardware.

Thousands of citizens are expected to line up to watch the hourlong parade, which is often followed by picnics and other activities at public locations such as parks.

Lukashenka said that many war veterans, now in their 90s, have expressed a desire to see the parade, though he warned against “dragging” people to the event. COVID-19 has proven to be particularly deadly among the elderly.

Russia has canceled its grand celebration of the 75th anniversary of Victory Day as it steps up its fight against the spread of the coronavirus. Russia now has the seventh-most registered cases in the world.

Lukashenka said that several Russian deputies and senators have expressed a willingness to attend the parade in Minsk and that Belarus is willing to help coordinate travel for Russians who want to visit.

Russia closed its border with Belarus in March and later halted passenger train service to its smaller neighbor.

“We welcome it. Let them travel. We will not close the doors to our friends and brothers,” Lukashenka said.

Serbia

Serbia will lift its state of emergency imposed over the COVID-19 pandemic, President Aleksandar Vucic said on May 3.

Vucic said on broadcaster TV Pink that parliament would vote on May 6 to end the state of emergency.

The Balkan nation has enforced since March 15 some of the strictest lockdown measures in Europe as part of the state of emergency, including border closures and nightly and weekend curfews.

Vucic said that two conditions for restrictions to end had been met: Infections declining to under 5 percent of tests for seven days in a row and significantly fewer people on respirators.

The country has confirmed 9,464 cases and 193 deaths from the COVID-19 disease.

From May 4, bus and rail services are allowed but passengers will be required to wear face masks and no air conditioning is allowed.

Shopping malls, cafes, and restaurants will also reopen with social distancing and hygiene measures in place.

Small shops were allowed to reopen in late April.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan could be bracing for a surge in COVID-19 cases after a random test of 500 people in the nation’s capital indicated one-third were infected with the coronavirus.

A spokesman for the nation’s Public Health Ministry, Wahid Mayar, called the results of the test carried out in Kabul “concerning.”

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A nation of nearly 37 million, Afghanistan has performed only 12,000 tests to date with slightly less than one-quarter testing positive.

The number of registered infections is likely to spike once the nation begins rolling out testing on a broader scale, Mayar said.

The poor, war-torn country’s health-care system could become overwhelmed, some fear. Afghanistan only has 400 ventilators.

The country has imposed lockdowns in Kabul and other cities to contain the spread, but compliance has been weak.

The infection may have spread rapidly around the country after more than 250,000 Afghan migrants returned earlier this year from neighboring Iran, which has been among the worst-hit countries by the virus.

Iran has registered more than 96,000 cases since it announced its first cases in mid-February. The virus has killed more than 6,150 people in the country.

The Afghan migrants returning from Iran were not tested or quarantined.

Some reports describe migrants dying from COVID-19 upon their return, raising skepticism about the official mortality data.

The country has registered only 85 deaths from COVID-19.

The Afghan government has only recently begun testing for COVID-19 in western Herat, the province the migrants crossed upon their return from Iran.

Some have blamed the government, which is mired in crisis, for responding too slowly to the pandemic.

The U.S. Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in an April 30 report that the spread of COVID-19 could derail stalled peace efforts.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on state television that mosques would reopen in many low-risk regions of the country on May 4, after they were closed in early March as Iran was hit by the Middle East's deadliest coronavirus outbreak.

Rohani, in a televised meeting of the country's virus task force on May 3, said 132 counties, around one-third of Iran's administrative divisions, would "reopen their mosques as of tomorrow."

Iranians sit in their cars while taking part in a religious ceremony during the holy month of Ramadan in a parking in Tehran.
Iranians sit in their cars while taking part in a religious ceremony during the holy month of Ramadan in a parking in Tehran.

"Social distancing is more important than collective prayer," Rohani added, adding that Islam considers safety obligatory, while praying in mosques is only "recommended."

The counties earmarked for reopening are "low risk," Rohani said.

He said the committee was also considering reopening schools by May 16 to allow for a month of classes before the summer break.

The outbreak has killed more than 6,150 people and infected more than 96,440 in Iran since it announced its first cases in mid-February.

Iran on May 2 reported its lowest daily toll of new infections since March 10.

Experts and officials both in Iran and abroad have cast doubts about Iran's officially reported figures, saying the real number of cases could be much higher.

Iran has shut universities, cinemas, stadiums, and other public spaces since March.

But it has allowed a phased reopening of its economy since April 11, arguing that the sanctions-hit country cannot afford to remain shut down.

Only "high-risk" businesses like gyms and barbershops remain closed.

"We will continue the reopenings calmly and gradually," Rohani said.

With reporting by AFP, TASS, and Reuters
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