Life in Russia during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Hello there! I was supposed to write something about coronavirus in October 2020, but you know how responsibly I lead my blog. In any case, since I am now infected with — guess what — Covid-19, and can’t leave my apartment for the next two weeks. I thought it would be a good time to write on my blog about it. 

In case you are worried about me, I am fine. Although, why would you worry about me anyway? I’m fine, mostly. I am coughing a bit and bored to death, staring at the ceiling in my own apartment, but other than that, pretty ok. 

How has the Russian government been dealing with the Covid pandemic?

That is a very good question! Almost as if I asked it myself.

As of the writing of this post, by mid-July 2021, the country is facing a third wave of infections. This could possibly be worse than the previous waves because of the Delta variant, which is much more contagious. The number of cases has been rising quite quickly, but the government is not repeating the measures imposed in similar situations in the past. In Moscow, not long ago you could only go to a restaurant if you were vaccinated or could present a PCR test made in the last 3 days, but these measures have already been dropped. 

I am currently living in Saint Petersburg, and the situation here was quite different from Moscow. There were no measures enforced by the government when the pandemic first started, back in April 2020. Then, there was a recommended social distancing policy, but nothing actually forbidding businesses from operating. It was the beginning of Spring and the weather was finally stopping being depressive and gloomy. If you have been to Saint Petersburg, you know how rare this is. It’s no surprise that, at that time, everyone was freely walking around the city center, often without masks, and going to bars and restaurants.

During the summer there was a temporary closure of venues and public gatherings. Other than that, people in Saint Petersburg were mostly ignoring social distancing and self-isolation measures. Businesses closed again for some time during the winter, but that was quite it. Up until now, masks are required in most closed spaces, but not on the street. 

How has the pandemic affected you personally? 

Well, at the moment I can’t travel outside of Russia. I do not have a temporary or permanent residency in the country, so the border security might not let me back in the country. I haven’t seen my family in 2 years almost, which sucks, really, so I can only keep dreaming of the time when I can take some vacations and travel somewhere with exotic food. My Russian friends can travel to a few countries already, so normally I check their Instagram stories in Bali, or Georgia, or Turkey, and then I cry myself to sleep. 

From April to September, I had to work from home, since the company decided that it was too risky to keep all employees working from the office. Oh, how fun it was to work from home during the summer with no Air Conditioning at home. Why no AC? It’s Saint Petersburg, after all. You don’t expect Saint Petersburg to be warm, not even in the summer.

By autumn, my office reopened for employees willing to take Covid-19 tests every two weeks. I thought I was done working from home, so applied to go back to the office. And then I regretted that I couldn’t work from home when the temperature reached -20 °C during the winter.

This spring, most restrictions regarding working from the office were finally lifted, and more employees started to go to the office more often. We even had a corporate party not long ago, as it was considered safe to gather large numbers of people again.  These small things, such as seeing coworkers personally, and having parties, even small ones, provide some relief from the fact that we are still living in a pandemic and most borders are still closed.

I would love to get travelling again without risking losing my work and apartment, but for now that is still impossible. 

Russia registered the first Covid-19 vaccine. Why hasn’t everyone vaccinated yet?

The vaccination campaign is going quite slowly in Russia. Unfortunately, people are too distrustful of the government, and don’t take seriously any information about the Covid-19 Pandemic or the need to vaccinate. People are so distrustful of vaccines in Russia that they’d rather buy a fake vaccination certificate. It does not help that Sputnik V has not been recognized by the World Health Organization. I am aware that it was already analyzed by national and international organizations. Many countries, including European ones, are importing it in order to vaccinate their own population. 

Russians, though, still fear that Sputnik V might have side effects that somehow are not worth the benefit of immunity against a lethal virus. Some believe the vaccine is completely inefficient. You’d think that only uneducated people with a minimal knowledge of science buy into anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, but that is not the case in Russia. Many of my friends, some of them even work colleagues, with master’s degrees or PhDs, do not want to get vaccinated, and for several reasons.

One not so funny story that I experienced last year showcases this. I was talking to an acquaintance about the pandemic, which was something unknown and scary at the time. This “woke” guy tried to explain to me that the Russian government was just trying to portray a common flu as a serious pandemic in order to keep people obedient and fearful. He went as far as to say that his aunt got sick with a flu and was registered as being sick with Covid-19. After that, he said, his aunt managed to somehow win a court battle against the hospital that listed her as sick with Covid-19. Therefore, in his mind, everyone who was being registered as infected with Covid-19 was just actually suffering from a common flu.

I don’t know who his aunt was, but I am quite confident that you don’t drag someone into court just like that. That is not to mention all other logical flaws in his argument. I guess that if I had listened a bit longer to him, he could have just started shouting “Wake up, sheeple!” at random crowds in the street.

Why haven’t you vaccinated?

Here comes one of the most foolish stories I ever had to write about myself so far. 

I was going to. I really was. First, I consulted my insurance about it, but they said that the vaccine was free and therefore not offered by any insurance system at the time. But I am a foreigner, so I can’t get vaccinated for free. I would have to pay almost €100.00 for each dose, so I decided that maybe I’ll wait a bit longer. If you think that paying €200.00 isn’t that much, keep in mind that I am living in Russia, not in the European Union. The salaries here are much lower. And everyone else is getting the vaccine for free, so I felt quite like I was being tricked into something.

A while after that, a friend recommended another clinic where the vaccine was “free”, but required a paid consultation after receiving each dose. Because, of course, you need to have a paid consultation for each dose only if you are a foreigner. Anyway, the price was much lower, so I signed up. The very same day I was about to get vaccinated, I got the information that my company was going to organize a massive vaccination campaign for all employees, for free. Obviously I canceled the appointment and signed up for the office vaccination campaign. 

Then I got sick. Yay. 

While I recover from Covid-19, I do realize I should have vaccinated earlier, and I totally would have done it if the vaccine were available for foreigners. There will never be a perfect time, so better to vaccinate earlier, rather than later. 

Thanks for reading all the way down here. Stay healthy, vaccinate if you can!