The Russian army is rush-building 16 emergency coronavirus hospitals amid warnings of an ‘explosion’ of cases in the country.
Three thousand troops are working ‘around the clock’ to build the hospitals, which will be able to hold 1,600 patients when finished.
Russia has just 840 confirmed cases of coronavirus, but there are signs the infection rate is starting to spike as has been seen in other badly-affected places like Italy.
Meanwhile Moscow has announced that cafes, shops, parks and other non-essential services will shut for a week starting Saturday in an ‘unprecedented’ move to slow the spread of the virus.
President Putin has already enforced a week of holiday on Russians between March 28 and April 5 and told them to stay at home to help flatten the curve of infection.
Announcing the construction of new hospitals on Thursday, defence minister Sergei Shoigu said that half will be ready by mid-April and the other half by May 15.
The total being spent on the project is £94million, which includes a specialist £93million hospital in Moscow.
Additional ‘modular’ military hospitals are being built in Kaliningrad, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Odintsovo, Podolsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Smolensk, Pushkin, Rostov-on-Don, Sevastopol, Volgograd, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Orenburg, Ulan-Ude, Ussuriysk, and Khabarovsk.
‘We started the construction on March 20,’ Shoigu announced at a government meeting in Moscow.
‘At present 3,000 people are employed with 750 units of equipment. Work is carried out around the clock.’
The move came as epidemiologist Professor Nikolay Malyshev warned numbers infected with coronavirus are expected to soar.
‘We are now preparing for explosive development, like a nuclear chain reaction,’ he warned.
Similar concerns led to Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin shutting down large parts of the city until the end of next week.
Sobyanin had already ordered Muscovites aged over 65 to stay home starting Thursday, but stopped short of ordering a strict quarantine.
The closures announced Thursday ‘are not a holiday, it is a serious measure to prevent COVID-19,’ the mayor said in a statement on his website.
All cafes and restaurants must stop admitting customers and may only deliver food or prepare orders to go, according to the decree.
Stores selling non-essential items must close, as well as beauty salons and spas. Moscow’s parks will also shut.
The mayor first hinted at the new measures in a televised interview Wednesday evening, saying ‘there will be nothing to do in Moscow’ next week.
‘The restrictions ordered today are unprecedented in Moscow’s modern history and will create many inconveniences,’ Sobyanin said in his message Thursday.
‘But trust me, they are absolutely necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus infection and decrease the number of the ill,’ he said, also asking Russians from other regions to put off travel to the capital.
Moscow registered two coronavirus-linked deaths on Wednesday, the first nationally. A total of 840 cases have been recorded nationwide, according to official statistics on Thursday.