COVID-19: Moscow Has App To Monitor Quarantine; Belarus Denies First Fatality

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The global death toll has surpassed 45,000 with over 900,000 infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here’s a roundup of developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast countries.


Moscow authorities say they have developed a smartphone application to help control the movement of residents during the coronavirus lockdown.

The head of the Moscow city IT department, Eduard Lysenko, said on April 1 that the program, which is still being tested, won’t be mandatory for all residents, just those who have been confirmed with the coronavirus.

The app will collect user data from smartphones and then forward it without encryption to the servers of the app’s developers.

While the developers claim the app will help ensure public safety, some critics are concerned about how much private data and access it will give on private individuals to officials.

Vladislav Zdolnikov, the author of the Telegram channel “IT and Sorm,” said he studied the app’s code and found that it transmits all data to the Moscow city administration without encryption, meaning it could potentially be used to collect personal data — including access to a phone’s camera, photo gallery, Internet usage, call history, and messaging — on individuals who have nothing to do with city officials.

The daily Kommersant said earlier that Moscow authorities may oblige residents to receive QR codes anytime they wish to exit their homes.

As of April 1, Russia had officially recorded 2,777 cases of the coronavirus, an increase of 440 cases over the previous day. A total of 24 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Some critics have accused the government of underreporting figures on the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Putin had decided to handle his duties remotely after the head of Moscow’s Kommunarka hospital tested positive for coronavirus following a meeting with the president last week, during which the two shook hands.

“These days distance work will be used by the president to the maximum extent,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, adding that Putin was at a presidential residence outside Moscow.

Peskov has said the president is healthy and being regularly tested for the virus.

Earlier on April 1, Putin signed legislation that allows the government to declare a state of national emergency as it battles to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The law was approved by parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, the day before.

The legislation allows the government to declare an emergency situation across the country and to establish mandatory rules of conduct during a state of emergency.

Officials have been tightening restrictions on the movement of people in recent days amid a spike in the number of reported coronavirus cases in Russia, especially in the capital, Moscow, which has all but confined its 12 million residents to their homes.

St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, and more than 20 other regions from the westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad to the Arctic region of Murmansk and Tatarstan on the Volga River, have followed Moscow’s example by introducing compulsory self-isolation regimes.

Earlier, thousands of new conscripts who were to begin their conscription into Russia’s armed forces were told to stay home and wait because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered a delay to the regular spring armed-forces draft that was to start on April 1, telling the draft commission to send new conscripts to military units no earlier than May 20.

The draft process was originally scheduled to run from April 1 to July 15.

A 12-month stint in the armed forces is mandatory for all male Russian citizens — with few exceptions — between 18 and 27 years of age.

Conscription occurs twice a year, in spring and autumn.

Avoiding the draft is a felony offense under Russia’s Criminal Code and punishable by up to two years in prison.

Neighboring Kazakhstan and Ukraine postponed their spring drafts to the armed forces last month.


Belarusian authorities say the death of a man who died on March 30 in the eastern city of Vitsebsk was not because of the coronavirus, discounting what had appeared to be the country’s first fatality from the outbreak.

Relatives of Viktar Dashkevich received autopsy papers and a death certificate late on March 31 which put the cause of death for the 75-year-old actor from the National Drama Theater in Vitsebsk as “unspecified pneumonia.”

Dashkevich was hospitalized with pneumonia and chronic lung disease on March 21. One of two coronavirus tests performed on him had come back as positive.

Belarus’s approach to the outbreak has been criticized by some for lacking transparency, especially with regard to the reporting of cases.

A Belarusian news-website editor who published an article on the coronavirus was arrested on March 25 and charged with “receiving a bribe,” which carries a possible 10-year prison sentence.

The arrest of Syarhey Satsuk, director and editor in chief of the online news outlet has been questioned by rights activists since it came three days after he published an editorial criticizing Lukashenka’s approach to the coronavirus epidemic and casting doubt on official infection figures.

Satsuk is also known for his previous reporting on corruption issues in the health sector.

Jeanne Cavelier, the head of Reporters Without Border’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, has called the arrest “a warning to media that question the Belarusian government’s health-care policies.”


All Bulgarian lawmakers will undergo coronavirus tests on April 1 after one member of parliament tested positive for the COVID-19 disease, National Assembly Speaker Tsveta Karayancheva has told an emergency briefing.

The lawmaker who has tested positive is Hasan Ademov, a member of the center-right Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), Karayancheva told the briefing in the parliament building late on March 31.

General Ventsislav Mutafchiiski, the chief of Bulgaria’s National Operations Headquarters, said on April 1 that Ademov was in hospital, but did not provide any other details.

The 240-member parliament is scheduled to hold a session on budget updates on April 2. It was not immediately clear if the meeting will go ahead as planned.

On March 31, the Bulgarian government rescinded an order requiring people to wear medical masks in public places to protect against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, just one day after it issued the order.

Health Minister Kiril Ananiev canceled the requirement on March 31 after hundreds of people filed a lawsuit against the order, claiming there are not enough medical masks available for the public.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that the law should not be in place until the government could issue enough masks to the population.

Ananiev said in a statement that he still supported the mandatory use of a face covering “as another means of preventing the spread of the virus.”

He added, however, “As I do not have full agreement, I have just signed an order canceling [the order] until consensus is reached in our society.”

On March 30, the Health Ministry had ordered that “all persons, when in indoor or outdoor public places, are required to have a face mask on.”

The moves come as Bulgaria, along with the rest of the world, struggles to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

As of late March 31, Bulgaria had confirmed nearly 400 cases of coronaviirus infections and eight deaths. However, experts caution that it is impossible to determine the actual number of infections in any country because of the lack of testing.

Bulgaria, the poorest member of the European Union, has closed schools, restaurants, and bars, restricted intercity travel and access to parks, and banned all domestic and foreign holidays and trips until at least April 13 to contain the spread of the outbreak.

Other countries, including Slovakia and the Czech Republic, have ordered the use of masks in public, either at all times or when shopping and conducting other actions.


The number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to grow in Romania, where the death toll has reached 85.

The government’s crisis group on April 1 reported seven more fatalities and 215 more infections, bringing the number of those infected to 2,460, with 34 patients in serious condition.

Almost 120,000 people are in self-isolation, while more than 12,000 others are under quarantine.

Critics say that the number of tests has been insufficient. With a population of 19.5 million, Romania has performed some 26,600 tests, while fellow EU member the Czech Republic, a country of 10.6 million, has tested more than 55,000 people.

A total of 196 Romanians have been confirmed positive abroad, most of them in Spain and Italy — two of the countries most affected by the pandemic — while 24 others have died of COVID-19 in Italy, France, and other Western countries.

The northeastern city of Suceava, where more than a quarter of all cases were registered, has been in lockdown since March 31.

With a population of just over 100,000, Suceava had more than 600 cases and one-third of all Romania’s fatalities. More than half of the country’s 285 infected doctors, nurses, and other medical staff were in Suceava, officials said.

Authorities say the spread was caused by poor management and corruption at the Suceava hospital, where infected medical personnel were allowed to mingle with healthy colleagues, while people with connections to the local elite jumped the line to be tested even when that was not apparently necessary.

The quarantine will last until mid-April, when a 30-day nationwide state of emergency declared on March 16 is set to end.

The growing number of medical personnel confirmed positive has prompted many doctors, paramedics, nurses, and auxiliary personnel to leave their jobs, either in frustration at the lack of medical supplies or because of fatigue or sheer panic.


Armenia has suspended public transport in the capital, Yerevan, as the authorities announced the death of a fourth patient infected with the novel coronavirus.

The 89-year-old patient suffered from multiple medical conditions, including arterial hypertension and diabetes, officials said on April 1.

Earlier in the day, the Health Ministry said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen by 39 to 571 in the previous 24 hours, the highest number in the South Caucasus region.

Meanwhile, all subway and bus services were suspended in Yerevan in an effort to slow the spread of the respiratory illness.

People can use taxis or their cars, but they must be able to prove that they left their homes for work or another urgent reason.

Law enforcement officers set up checkpoints on highways outside Yerevan and other cities and towns, checking every vehicle leaving or entering these communities.

On March 31, existing curbs on people’s movement and the closure of most businesses in the country were extended until April 13.

Bus services between the capital and the rest of the country were halted last week.

Some Yerevan residents expressed anger over the temporary ban on public transport, saying they have to work and cannot afford taxis on a daily basis.

“I work in a hospital and also provide home care to a sick person,” said Liana Babayan. “Working people should be able to use public transport. Let them just show their documents or have their temperature checked.”


Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus has passed 3,000, officials say, as President Hassan Rohani accused the United States of missing a “historic opportunity” to lift sanctions.

Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur on April 1 reported 138 fatalities in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 3,036.

The number of confirmed cases increased by 2,987 to 47,593, Jahanpur said.

Iran is one of the world’s worst-hit countries, and there are concerns that the actual figures are much higher.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Rohani said Iranians had done “great work” and that the epidemic appeared to be receding in all provinces.

He also asserted the United States had missed a “historic opportunity” to lift the sanctions against Iran and “for once to say to the Iranian nation that they are not an anti-Iranian people.”

Washington has insisted that medicines and medical equipment are exempt from its sanctions, but restrictions on Iran’s banking system and an embargo on its oil exports have limited Iran’s ability to purchase items.

Earlier this week, Britain, France and Germany used a special trading mechanism for the first time to send medical supplies to Iran in a way that does not violate U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. sanctions were imposed after President Donald Trump in 2018 withdrew the United States from a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.


Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov has dismissed Deputy Prime Minister Altynai Omurbekova and Health Minister Kosmosbek Cholponbaev for their “failure” to adequately respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

The April 1 move comes after Jeenbekov sharply criticized official efforts to stem the outbreak, which has seen 111 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 11 children.

Jeenbekov was critical of preparations to deal with the outbreak, saying the number of infections was the result of “unsatisfactory efforts to take preventive measures.”


Kazakhstan has officially registered its third death due to the coronavirus.

The Health Ministry in Nur-Sultan said on April 1 that a coronavirus patient died in the central Qaraghandy region. It had previously reported that coronavirus patients had died in Nur-Sultan and the Aqmola region that surrounds the capital.

In a separate statement, the ministry said that, as of April 1, the number of coronavirus cases in the Central Asian nation had reached 369.


In Uzbekistan, a probe has been launched into a local lawmaker on suspicion of spreading false information about the coronavirus in the eastern city of Qoqon.

The Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office said on April 1 that a member of the Qoqon city council, whose identity was not disclosed, is accused of placing an audio file on a social network, in which he gave false information regarding two individuals allegedly diagnosed with the virus.

As of April 1, the number of confirmed cases reported by health authorities in Uzbekistan was 173, including two deaths.


In neighboring Turkmenistan, which has not yet declared any cases of the coronavirus, authorities suspended the movement of freight transport through the country until May 1.

A Turkmen Foreign Ministry document on the suspension was made public by a Kazakh businessman and confirmed by two Turkmen diplomatic sources to the Reuters news agency.


In Tajikistan, state penitentiary service chief Mansurjon Umarov told RFE/RL that all visits to inmates held in prisons and detention centers had been suspended as of March 31.

Tajikistan has also not declared any cases of the coronavirus.

Police have set up checkpoints on roads into the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to screen motorist for the coronavirus.

The new measures took effect on March 31. Medical personnel took the temperature of drivers and passengers, though not all infected people have a fever

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