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Press review: Russian regions lift quarantines and Sweden isolated for being lockdown-free

Top stories from te Russian press on Monday, May 25

Izvestia: Russian regions start gradually lifting lockdowns


In spite of the acute period of development of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia, according to the Ministry of Health, it is coming to an end, Moscow needs at least another month before opening restaurants, beauty salons, and other public places, Izvestia wrote. Meanwhile, more than half of Russia’s regions began to gradually loosen up their quarantines. Experts told the newspaper that the number of cases will decline starting from early June, and the abnormal summer heat promised by weather forecasters could help fight the virus.

"The epidemiological situation is now stable in Moscow and the Moscow Region," Head physician of the Leader of Medicine Center, and infectious disease specialist Evgeny Timakov told Izvestia. "But it is important to continue social distancing and wear masks when visiting public places and using transport," he added.

So far, 44 of the 85 Russian regions can begin the first stage of lifting the Covid-19-related restrictions, according to the country's chief sanitary officer Anna Popova. The acute period of the pandemic in Russia is ending, but there are still regions where the incidence rate is higher than average, Chief infectious diseases specialist at the Ministry of Health Elena Malinnikova told Izvestia. According to her, even if the second wave of the pandemic begins, it will be less active.

Meanwhile, Popova believes that the number of deaths associated with coronavirus in Russia will increase, despite a general decline in the number of cases. According to her, this is due to the fact that the peak of the mortality rate during the epidemic comes after the peak of the incidence rate.

Virologist Viktor Zuev told the newspaper that from the beginning of June, the number of cases will decline. And the approaching abnormal heat, in his opinion, could help defeat the virus, at least for some time.


Izvestia: Sweden risks facing isolation due to its quarantine-free measures

Sweden has chosen its own path to fight Covid-19. While other EU states introduced quarantines, the Scandinavian country urged its population to only adhere to social distancing. Last week, Sweden surpassed all its European neighbors in the number of deaths from coronavirus per capita. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization does not want to draw conclusions about the country's measures to curb the pandemic. Representatives of the global organization told Izvestia that these methods could be analyzed only after the outbreak ends. However, Sweden's neighbors are already considering not opening their borders with the state. Recommendations on trips to Northern European countries will be considered by June 15. So far, skepticism about Stockholm’s measures is not going away, Izvestia wrote.

WHO representative Stephanie Brickman told Izvestia that it was impossible to carry out a final analysis of various methods of controlling the pandemic until the outbreak is over. Nevertheless, she noted that social distancing measures are an important part of a comprehensive response.

At the same time, Johan Giesecke, a Swedish epidemiologist and health consultant at the WHO, noted that Sweden’s soft policy towards the pandemic will be successful in the long run. According to him, closing off the entire country would have only postponed the inevitable growth in the country’s coronavirus cases and deaths.

In-mid May, European countries began to voice plans to open borders with their neighbors, and Sweden poses a big question for Northern EU countries, Izvestia wrote. According to Finnish Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo, the situation is stable in Norway, Denmark and Iceland, yet it remains alarming in Sweden.

Even in Sweden itself, opening borders is not being discussed either, the newspaper noted. Moreover, Press Secretary to the Minister for Home Affairs Natalie Sial told the newspaper that a few days ago, the Swedish government decided to extend the ban on entering the EU through Sweden until June 15.


Kommersant: Key official suggests Russia should prioritize technologies and SMEs after pandemic

Head of the Russian Accounts Chamber Alexey Kudrin believes that priorities for a future anti-crisis policy that will help Russia emerge from the coronavirus crisis will have to include the health and incomes of citizens, economic freedoms for small and medium enterprises (SME) and the development of new technologies, he wrote in an article for Kommersant. Meanwhile, the official added that Russia’s oil output will not fall due to the pandemic, but, revenues from its exports will inevitably decrease.

"Oil production in Russia will not decline, but we will no longer have the revenues of the last 20 years. If the non-oil and gas sector does not develop more actively, this will become a crucial challenge for economic policy in general, including budgetary policy," he said, noting that new technological and innovative solutions could help the economy. "A critical moment has arrived to transform the oil economy into the knowledge and technology economy," the key official noted.

He also added that the virus has had the least effect on digital technologies, and therefore they provide revolutionary solutions. "This changes entire industries. And our regulation and public administration are falling behind and do not meet these challenges," Kudrin noted.

The economist believes that reducing state regulation of small enterprises and providing them with greater freedom is paramount for rebuilding this sector of the economy after the coronavirus pandemic. "Today, we see that only 13% of small and medium-sized enterprises believe that they will survive the crisis… In the next 3-4 years, we must show real results in this area. More freedom is needed," Kudrin stressed.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: IMF not ready to bankroll Belarus

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is not yet ready to provide the government of Belarus with a "quick" loan to support the economy during the pandemic. Out of $2-2.5 bln requested by Minsk, so far only $90 mln has been approved. Experts believe that potential lenders could be alarmed by the borrower's strategy for combating Covid-19, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. Meanwhile, the World Bank expressed its readiness to meet Belarus halfway.

The Lukashenko administration sent a request to the IMF in March. Funds were needed to counter the challenges to the country's economy due to the worsening global economic situation and the coronavirus pandemic. According to the newspaper, the process has now halted due to the fact that Belarus is not complying with the recommendations of the World Health Organization.

Another factor that could prevent the IMF from quickly financing Belarus is its lack of structural reforms. Negotiations on IMF lending in 2016-2017 ended without any results, precisely because the parties did not agree on reforms, the newspaper wrote. In particular, international experts insisted on the need to audit Belarus’ state-owned enterprise sector. Minsk refused to reform the public sector.

The upcoming presidential election in Belarus also does not offer the global financial authority any incentives to provide money. The previous program, under which the IMF allocated $3.6 bln in 2009-2010, has remained unfulfilled, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.


Kommersant: Russia’s airlines intend to boost number of flights in summer

Russian airlines are bracing to dramatically increase the number of flights in June, despite the coronavirus restrictions in the most Russian regions. The number of applications for flights from major airports was four times higher than in May, Kommersant wrote. Amid closed international traffic, airlines are pinning their hopes on Russia’s Black Sea resorts. However, since the dynamics of the pandemic are difficult to predict, a significant part of the planned flights might be canceled. Experts told the newspaper they believe that airlines will continue to operate at a loss in June, and can only see profits in July.

A source in one of Russia's major airports confirmed to Kommersant that airlines had applied for more flights for some destinations than last June. "However, in reality of course, they won't be able to conduct so many flights," the source said.

Oleg Panteleev, executive director of the Aviaport agency, believes that in summer, Russian airlines could restore passenger traffic on domestic routes up to 60-80% of the previous year, depending on the destination.

It is impossible to reliably assess the situation with early bookings. Passengers prefer to buy tickets shortly before departure. Still, with an improvement in the epidemiological situation in the regions, a gradual increase in domestic passenger traffic during the summer is inevitable, he predicted.

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