“The situation with the spread of coronavirus infection has improved significantly,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote in a blog post announcing the news, noting statistics that showed the number of new cases had dropped by half since mid-June.
The move comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing the impact of the fast-moving delta variant and slowing vaccination rates, recommended that Americans return to wearing face masks when in covid-19 hot spots — even if fully vaccinated.
Though masks are a subject of fierce political controversy in the United States, other nations and regions have imposed additional physical restrictions. When Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in the Philippines for an official visit on Thursday, he wore not only a face mask but also a plastic face shield in line with local government recommendations, amid a surging outbreak linked to the delta variant.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the use of both a face mask and a shield “embarrassing” in a tweet on Thursday, though it met the local requirements.
Moscow’s requirement to wear face masks when in public spaces was not being lifted, Sobyanin wrote in his announcement on Friday.
“The use of masks for respiratory protection is still mandatory,” Sobyanin wrote. “We must maintain this critical barrier to the spread of the virus until the number of new cases is reduced to a minimum.”
The requirement to wear not only face masks but also latex gloves in Moscow’s public spaces had been implemented in May 2020, when less was known for certain about airborne vs. surface transmission of the virus. The fine for not wearing protective gear in public was set at around $50, with masks and gloves for sale in shops and on the Metro. The measure remained in place even as attention shifted to face masks and vaccination, with renewed enforcement amid a summer surge in cases.
Accounts suggest that takeup of the measures was limited. Some 94 percent of shoppers in the city were wearing protective gear in early June but that number had dropped to 68 percent by mid-July, Tass news agency reported.
More than $4 million in fines were handed down to 6,000 businesses found to be flouting the requirements during an enforcement push at that time, the mayor’s office told the government-owned news agency.
Despite a nationwide vaccination push, Russia faced a significant surge in new cases over the summer that peaked in early July. Experts attributed the rise in new cases to not only the global problem of the fast-spreading delta variant, but also to persistently low vaccination rates, lingering at around 16 percent.
The Russian government has moved forcefully to compel workers to get vaccinated by threatening retail and service businesses with punishment if they fail to get 60 percent of their workers vaccinated, while resistant workers could be suspended.
The number of new recorded cases per day in Moscow had peaked at more than 7,000 in July but has dropped to below 4,000.
Though disposable latex gloves have been used by health workers around the world before and after the start of the pandemic, U.S. authorities have not required them for widespread use during the pandemic. Instead, regular and thorough hand-washing with soap and hot water has been recommended for limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
Regional Russian officials have imposed notably strict measures multiple times during the pandemic. though many have been lifted.
Since June, Sobyanin has relaxed measures, including rules that forbid Muscovites from sitting on park benches and a requirement to show a QR code documenting vaccination status before eating in restaurants or cafes.