Why some Russians don’t believe in coronavirus

Anton Podgaiko/Sputnik
With a relatively small amount of infected, some people in Russia remain skeptical of the pandemic. They believe it won’t affect them… or they just don’t care and don’t want to panic at all. One of Russia Beyond’s writers shares her observations from self-isolation.

Russia is shutting down like many other countries these days. From March 17, all schools and universities are closed. All public events have been canceled and many employees have been advised to work from home.

Security checks temperature of the students in one of Moscow universities

When I take a glimpse outside my quarantine Moscow home office I see spring. Crowds of people are walking, kids are hanging out at the playground, people with huge bags are coming from the grocery stores. And I ask myself - is THAT self-isolation?

Nothing in common with apocalypse

After the first day of my working from home I exit my apartment building very carefully feeling as if I am in a spy movie. I try not to meet anyone from neighbors, I try not to touch anything, I check if the elevator is empty before entering it. 

People walk and enjoy spring

Outside, I expect to see something like a post-apocalyptic landscape, a few people in gas masks and - I don’t know - maybe someone running and screaming. However, I don’t see anything like that. It’s just like a normal evening. 

Overcoming my own fear and the danger I feel, I enter the grocery store. And there are crowds inside and NO one is wearing any mask. I buy the only thing I have forgotten in preparation for self-isolation (and it’s not buckwheat - just some cans with beans and fish). 

“That’s just an ordinary flu”

Then I think if I should go get a manicure. I have a reservation from last week and I need to get rid of my long nails with gel (as I suppose they are not good and don’t allow me to wash hands properly - like this picture tells us). Overcoming my own fear again, I enter the neighborhood beauty salon. I see several girls sitting at an appropriate distance and all the staff are wearing masks. I am invited to take the remotest place, so I feel a little relaxed. 

“Cut them down please.” I ask. 

“Oh no, why?” A lady exclaims with misery in her voice.

 “Because of coronavirus,” I try to joke.

“Ah, that’s ridiculous. Seems like people haven’t studied at school. There is no coronavirus. We are just forced into all this stupid panic,” she says.

Manicure ladies always wear in masks

“Well, there are special machines for lung ventilation and there are only a few of them...” I  open my mouth to start a little argument, because for the last few weeks while covering coronavirus in Russia I’ve read a lot about the virus and discussed it extensively with journalists from all over the world.

“Ah, that’s bullsh*t, the virus is JUST like the ordinary flu!” The manicure lady seems to be unshakable, so I shut my mouth and don’t try to re-convince her.

“That’s for sure just SARS”

With a mixture of smile and hesitation I text my friend about the conversation with the manicure lady and ask her if she is working from home. “I am at home, but that’s because I am really sick,” she replies.

And she says she just caught a cold and didn’t call the doctor. “I have a runny nose and don’t have a fever - I’ve read those are not the signs of coronavirus. That’s for sure just SARS!” And she announces that tomorrow she’s gonna go to work again.

Many Russians used to cure themselves without doctors' help

I try to give her a lecture about the importance of self-isolation and that she could have a mild form of coronavirus, but still infect the others, including her grandparents and her colleagues’ grandparents. 

She says that’s OK, as she won’t see her grandparents for some time… but still goes to work, because her boss considers everyone who is taking coronavirus precautions stupid idiots. 

“I don’t want to join everyone’s panic”

“Ha, there are only 114 [as of March 17] infected in Russia - not even close to what is happening in Italy - and do you remember how big our population is?” Another friend of mine texts me when I try to complain to her about the previous one.

“Yes, but I am sure that there are plenty of those like her who just don’t register and don’t get tested.” I am not giving up.

But this friend doesn’t hear my arguments too - she just sends me funny memes and pics about people buying extra toilet paper rolls and says that they are idiots. “Why do they buy it? I mean they can always make an online order or just wash themselves!”

Cafes, restaurants and malls are still open in Russia

I ask if she is working from home. She says no. She could have easily stayed at home, but still goes to work, because it’s calm and quiet there - a perfect atmosphere. “Well, I told my parents not to go outside, but they still do it - and it seems like they are fine for now. No, really, I don’t want to join everyone’s panic. Seems the entire world has gone crazy!” She laments.

I am just speechless.

“It seems like a paranoia”

I call my relatives to check if they have already locked in self-isolation or at least stopped visiting public spaces. My aunt is surprised to hear that I am working from home. “Lol, did they put a microchip under your skin and are watching you?” “No, auntie! That’s my own responsibility to not let the virus spread!” I literally scream. “Aha, OK. But really - it seems like a paranoia. Do you really believe this is so serious?”

All my friends who planned spring vacation trips to Europe faced an unpleasant flight cancellation. Russia is closing borders for incoming foreigners, as well.

Boarders are closed from March 18 but many people managed to leave for vacation before. Some of them have difficulties with coming back

But then I hear that some relative’s colleagues just got back from Spain and didn’t want to sit at home - because you know what? She has a lot of work to do! Still, she was forced to isolate. Then I hear that another acquaintance left for Portugal, despite all the warnings, because Portugal wasn’t closed and “come on, I deserve my vacation!”

Here and there on Facebook I come across smartasses - that’s how I call them now. Many of them write posts saying that while everyone is stupidly panicking they are calm and that nothing is going to happen to them. At the same time, to my joy I see several posts calling to wash hands and use antiseptics and take care of grandparents- but very few!

Toilet paper, buckwheat and salt are sold out

Well, people might not believe in coronavirus, but they have had to believe in self-isolation. That’s why they are buying toilet paper and other supplies - like everywhere else these days.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

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