Trapped in quarantine. How Moscow is trying to stop the coronavirus outbreak using surveillance and police
Александр Бородихин
Trapped in quarantine. How Moscow is trying to stop the coronavirus outbreak using surveillance and police
5 March 2020, 23:20

Infectious Diseases Hospital No. 1 in Moscow. Photo: Andrey Vasilyev / TASS

Moscow authorities have announced that they are introducing a “regime of heightened readiness” in the city due to the coronavirus epidemic. Mediazona has found that the city government has already activated some of the control measures at its disposal.

The usual police surveillance has been supplemented by a new system of total surveillance through facial recognition cameras. A special official, Anastasia Rakova, the deputy mayor, is personally monitoring the situation and calling from her mobile phone whenever necessary.

For those who have fallen under suspicion, a two-week isolation under strict police and medical supervision is threatened, along with fines for those who do not comply. Mediazona publishes the monologues of two Moscow residents who have found themselves under quarantine, which became a new form of home arrest for them.


We were on a flight from Milan on the 23rd and, as it turns out, we were on the same flight as this guy who is now everywhere in the news. So the entire crew and all the passengers are in the same situation as us, and some of them are in Kommunarka, homes of rest, and sanatoriums that Sergei Sergeyevich [Sobyanin] mentioned.

My girlfriend and I had a stopover in Milan, where we spent less than a day. We arrived on the 22nd and departed on the 23rd [of February]. When we arrived in Milan, they checked our temperatures with thermal imaging cameras and everything was normal. The next day we flew out, and again everything was fine. At Vnukovo, no one checked anything, no temperature changes, nothing at all.

We went to work and lived our normal lives for a week. Then on Saturday [February 29], I received a call from someone who identified themselves as the deputy chief physician of some hospital, and they verified all my details: whether I lived where I said I did, whether I was the person I claimed to be, and whether I had been on that particular flight. We spoke; within 15 minutes, an ambulance crew arrived, took swabs from my throat and nose, and issued me a quarantine order, prohibiting me from leaving and outlining the consequences if I did. This was on March 1st.

My quarantine is for a week, although it should really be two weeks, but a week has passed since my arrival, and according to the public health guidelines, it’s two weeks from the date of arrival. A week has gone by, and they’ve put us in quarantine until March 8th. Presumably, they did all this on the same day they discovered this David guy had a suspected [virus], and started rushing around about it.

My girlfriend was in a different city [in Russia] at the time... to the point where she’s texting me that she’s on a train and losing signal: “Some woman just called me, asking me to wear a mask, wanting to know when I’ll arrive and when they can come take samples and issue the quarantine order.” Her signal cut out, and they didn’t manage to finish the conversation—she’s asking me to call back and say she’ll be in Moscow at 8am, and they can come then and do all of that. I call back, relay all of that, and ask: “Could you please identify yourself?” The woman said her name was Rakova. Her personal mobile number. When I called about my girlfriend, giving her name, the woman responded: “Ah yes, I take it you must be so-and-so then.” So they seem to have been very well informed.

The doctors came to me first on March 1 and to her on March 2. The story is the same, and you can find similar accounts online. Everyone is incredibly polite, very kind, as courteous as possible, and showing the utmost concern for our well-being. They constantly reassure us that everything will be fine and that we shouldn’t worry. Initially, the level of care was actually more frightening than anything else.

According to this document, they are supposed to call us daily and ask how we are feeling. The head of the neighbouring clinic constantly calls to check on us and asks if our temperature has risen. We report back, as we are required to take our temperature twice a day. She’s a great woman, very pleasant. The last time she came was to take repeat tests when it was confirmed that [Berov] was no longer just a suspected case but had actually fallen ill. They came in full protection, completely covered.

The day before yesterday, I went to take out the rubbish: I had run out of space and couldn’t fit any more into the rubbish chute. There’s a container area just a five-second slow walk from the entrance, so I went there. Five seconds later, I was already back in the entrance—but the next day, they called and asked if I had violated anything. In the evening, a great police major came to see me, very accommodating and amazingly polite—it seemed very strange. He gave me a paper, a warning about the inadmissibility of a repeated violation, or something like that. They issued it to both me and my girlfriend, even though she hadn’t violated anything.

Today, two policemen came to see me: this major and another one I don’t know; they wear masks. They issued a report—and, apparently, they took it away and didn’t give me a copy, or I lost it. I can’t find it. They issued a report under Part 1 of Article 19.5 of the Administrative Code.

[Regarding the facial recognition document] they said that, if I’m not mistaken, all this information was “passed down from Rospotrebnadzor” to them, and they weren’t involved in anything like that. They say they even tried to argue: “Are you out of your mind, where is the person supposed to put their rubbish?” But the others were adamant and told them to go and issue a report. The court will decide on the fine; I wrote in the report that I disagreed and that I had no other choice as there was nowhere else to store [the rubbish]. They complain that they don’t have time to do their other work.

[Delivery of groceries to those under quarantine] doesn’t concern them; they probably rely on relatives. We ordered from a delivery service, and I asked—since I’m not allowed to have contact with third parties—for them to leave it outside the door.

Photos taken by Artem during the police visit


I am a fourth-year student at the Literary Institute, and I also work as an editor for a music publication. I’m from Stavropol, but I live in a dormitory here in Moscow to study.

My friend and I were in China for a week on holiday. We bought the tickets before the news of the virus broke, and they were non-refundable, so we decided to go anyway. We didn’t have any symptoms the whole time, but the holiday turned out to be terrible: there was a lot of tension, the media constantly wrote about it, and we were afraid to go outside. When we arrived, all the locals were wearing masks. No matter how hard we tried to explain, pharmacies wouldn’t sell us masks or antiviral drugs. Later, when we talked to an English-speaking Chinese woman, she told us that everything was simply sold out. All trips to the city and other tourist sites were closed, so we only went out to the sea and hung out on the hotel grounds.

[On February 3] we went home. [In Moscow] we sat on the plane for about three or four hours because they checked us all for a very long time. They took a few people at a time for a test: they checked our temperature and took swabs from our mouth and nose. After that, everything was fine, and they let us go home.

If we didn’t report any symptoms and none were observed, they calmly let us go home, meaning there was initially no talk of quarantine. On February 14, as I later learned, a law came out stating that anyone who had flown in from China must not leave their place of residence for two weeks and [must] not have contact with other people. No one informed me about this.

I had no symptoms. I was monitored by my doctor, who called periodically and asked me to come in for check-ups. I went to the doctor not of my own volition—they called me themselves immediately after my return and said I was required to be monitored by them. She asked me to call as soon as any symptoms appeared, but nothing ever did. I actively took antiviral [drugs], and now everything is fine.

I was monitored until February 15, and on that day [doctors with a police officer] came without warning when I wasn’t at home. Then they started calling and speaking rudely to me when I refused to come, because I was supposed to be at home—but no one had warned me about this. They started yelling at me and threatening criminal punishment; I was very frightened.

The next day, February 16, they came to me [at the dormitory]: two hospital employees and one police officer. Without warning, without knocking, they entered my room and... in general, it was terrible. When we are in the room, we don’t lock the door. I was very afraid, so I invited my friend to stay with me, and this didn’t stop the doctors from saying that I shouldn’t have left the room or had contact with anyone. My friend was with me the whole time, but this didn’t stop them from examining me in any way. They took my temperature, listened to my breathing, checked my throat—the police officer stood in my room. During the examination, they asked me to undress, but [the doctors] asked the police officer to go outside—and then asked him to come back in.

The next day, a second team came, and they did knock—many thanks to them. The police officer stood outside the door. In general, during the very first visit, there was an older woman from my hospital, and she behaved simply awfully: they burst into the room and started taking over; when she was examining me, she took out a large syringe, and I’m very afraid of needles and blood, the situation frightened me, and I started crying—and the two of them started laughing at me. And later, when I came for a certificate, she remembered me and said, “Oh, I remember you, crybaby!”

On February 17, the second team came to me, and they were more polite. When they came to me, I was in the kitchen and walked past them without a mask, without anything, and the woman who was examining me was putting on equipment made of a cloak, a mask—only when I walked past them did she start getting dressed. They gave me a certificate for work [about the end of quarantine] and a decree [about quarantine].

Yesterday [March 4], around 11 pm, a police officer came to me with the [dormitory] commandant. At first, he was polite: he asked how my health was, but then he demanded my passport, photographed it, and informed me that my quarantine was ending today. I’ve already been in Moscow for a month; my 14 days of quarantine have passed. I showed him the documents, pointed out that by law my quarantine had ended, and I could move freely. He said, “Well, that’s all nonsense,” and said that since I had gone outside, they would come again and fine me for violating the quarantine conditions.

And so yesterday, in a wild panic, I wrote to Agora, not thinking they would answer me—we spoke on the phone with a lawyer and discussed further actions.

Editor: Dmitry Treschanin

Updated at 1:05 on March 6. Information about Anastasia Rakova’s public statements added.

Updated at 11:55 on March 6. Rakova’s position updated.

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