MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lawmakers on Tuesday voted to give the government powers to declare a national emergency over the coronavirus, and approved penalties for violations of lockdown rules including, in extreme cases, jail terms of up to seven years.
Moscow, the area worst affected by the epidemic, declared a lockdown on Sunday and residents can only leave their homes to buy food or medicine nearby, get urgent medical treatment, walk the dog or empty their bins.
Dozens of regions have since imposed similar restrictions.
On Tuesday, as confirmed cases nationwide topped 2,300, the streets of the capital – where 12.5 million live – were eerily quiet and Red Square almost deserted, with police checking the papers of occasional passers-by.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said he hoped an IT system would be operational by the end of this week that would allow authorities to monitor the residents’ movements.
Lawmakers in both parliamentary houses voted to back jail terms of up to seven years and fines of up to 2 million roubles ($25,500) for violations of lockdown restrictions that caused deaths.
There have been instances in other countries of people not self-isolating after knowing they had contracted the virus and subsequently infecting others in public spaces.
They also voted to introduce jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to 2 million roubles for people who deliberately spread fake news online about the coronavirus causing people to die.
Russia has reported 2,337 cases and 17 deaths, and says the virus has spread to 73 of its more than 80 regions.
Some doctors have voiced scepticism about the accuracy of the data, given what they say is the patchy nature and quality of testing. Authorities deny the figures are inaccurate.
The pieces of draft legislation approved on Tuesday require only President Vladimir Putin’s signature to become law.
Despite the outbreak, Putin this week approved to the army’s annual spring draft, allowing it to call up 135,000 conscripts for compulsory military service.
(Additional reporting by Andrey Kuzmin and Maxim Shemetov; editing by Andrew Osborn and John Stonestreet)