Moscow lifts virus lockdown as Russian death toll tops 6,000
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Moscow on Tuesday lifted a strict anti-coronavirus lockdown after more than two months of restrictions as Russia reported over 6,000 deaths.
Traffic jams returned to Moscow's notoriously congested roads as residents spilled out onto the streets on a warm late spring day in the Russian capital.
Many Muscovites were in good spirits after spending weeks cooped up at home, and most were not wearing the obligatory masks.
"It's nice out and there are a lot of people on the streets. It's a beautiful day, in every sense of the word," Olga Ivanova, a 33-year-old marketing manager, told AFP in central Moscow.
The easing of restrictions was announced Monday and comes as the Kremlin is gearing up for a crucial July 1 vote that could extend President Vladimir Putin's grip on power until 2036.
The 67-year-old leader also wants to stage a major World War II military parade which was postponed because of the epidemic and rescheduled for June 24.
Some critics have said that Moscow is lifting the lockdown prematurely.
On Tuesday, health officials reported 8,595 new cases and 171 deaths.
The country's total death toll has reached 6,142, and the overall number of infections is 485,253, the third-highest number in the world.
Moscow remains the epicentre of the outbreak, with 1,572 new cases.
Nevertheless Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced on Monday that the capital's general lockdown and pass system was ending Tuesday, allowing residents to move freely for the first time since late March.
Officials say Russia's high number of cases is the result of a huge testing campaign, with more than 13 million tests carried out so far, and point to Russia's relatively low mortality rate as evidence it is safe to ease lockdowns.
Critics have accused authorities of under-reporting deaths and say officials are rushing to lift restrictions for political reasons.
Moscow, Europe's most populous city with more than 12 million people, had been under lockdown since March 30.
Some measures have been gradually lifted over the last few weeks, with non-food retail shops permitted to reopen and residents allowed to go for walks according to a fixed schedule.
Sobyanin said that hairdressers, beauty salons and vets would also be allowed to reopen. Restaurants and cafes will open in two stages beginning June 16.
© 2020 AFP