How the coronavirus-hit year changed the life of Russians

Maxim Blinov/Sputnik
Across the country, new contactless technologies are being introduced, cameras now detect the wearing of masks, and innovative medical industries and start-ups have mushroomed.

Many of these technologies were conceived before the pandemic, but entered active development only in 2020. How has everyday life changed for Russians, besides the need to wear masks and gloves? 

1. Medical technology

At the new intensive care unit for coronavirus patients in Moscow.

As of March 30, 2021, Moscow was ranked as a Top 3 center for anti-Covid innovations, according to international think tank StartupBlink, behind only San Francisco and New York. The compilers of the rating included factors such as the self-isolation index, the development of telemedicine (to monitor patients), the use of artificial intelligence to recognize Covid pneumonia, and, of course, the creation of the Sputnik V vaccine, which is now used throughout Russia and abroad.

Production of contactless disinfectants in Yekaterinburg.

During the pandemic, not only did new specialized hospitals have to be put up in record time, but the problem of quickly identifying infected individuals and providing means of protection had to be addressed. New production facilities for combating coronavirus began to pop up, aided by low-interest loans. In its own words, the Industrial Development Fund (IDF), established for modernization of Russian industry, launched a special program for such manufacturers in March 2020, and has already issued 114 loans to the tune of more than 33.5 billion rubles ($443 million): “It’s targeted at the most needed products: rapid coronavirus tests, ventilators, antiseptics, personal protective equipment, antiviral drugs, recirculators for air disinfection, thermal imagers, etc.” said an IDF spokesperson.

2. More contactless shopping

A customer at the first Pyaterochka #naletu [on-the-go] cashierless supermarket.

Even in small settlements in Russia, cash is no longer a requirement when shopping or riding public transport. Over the year of the pandemic, the share of non-cash payments rose to 70% (up 6% compared to the year before), and the percentage of contactless payments using mobile devices also grew. According to the NAFI analytical center, 26% of Russians made a payment using a smartphone or smartwatch in February 2020, climbing to 32% in February 2021; at the same time, the number of bank card holders remained unchanged on 82% of citizens.

To minimize personal contact, stores began to install self-service checkouts en masse. For example, Russia's largest retailer X5 Retail Group (which includes the Pyaterochka and Perekrestok supermarket chains) installed more than 6,000 such terminals in stores (a year earlier there were about ten of them), and some fully automated stores have even appeared. 

3. Face recognition

Face-recognition terminal at the Russian State Geological Exploration University.

Face-recognition cameras have been trialed in Russian cities for several years, primarily to identify lawbreakers (for example, in the Moscow subway, cameras were installed on turnstiles to match images of passengers against a police database). However, in 2020, face recognition became used more often to register company employees and university students, and some gadgets are able to detect whether a person is wearing a mask or has a temperature.

Prime cafe in Moscow with a biometric payment terminal.

The next step is payments based on facial features. Such payment terminals have been installed in some Moscow stores and cafes, and their number is only increasing. For this, clients of banks and payment systems need to consent to the storage of their biometric data.

In Moscow public transport, it's now allowed to ride only wearing a mask.

The new Face Pay system should also be operational in the Moscow subway by the end of 2021. Face recognition cameras are already installed at turnstiles in station lobbies. 

4. Total delivery

Moscow during the spring 2020 lockdown.

For the services and catering sector, 2020 was not great, to put it mildly: more than 200 cafes closed down in central Moscow alone (35% more than in 2019) and in St. Petersburg the figure was double that. Overall, restaurant turnover in the country fell by 45% year on year.

That said, food stores and establishments began to list on delivery aggregators or launch their own takeout services. Over the year, the share of restaurants offering delivery grew from 40% to 58% in the regions and from 51% to 66% in Moscow. In early 2020, X5 Retail Group stores delivered several hundred orders a day, rising to 40,000 by the end of the year. One of the most successful of such businesses was Samokat, which owns a network of warehouses and delivers products in 15 minutes: in 2020, company revenue increased 20-fold!

People who lost their jobs due to self-isolation (the unemployment rate in 2020 rose by almost 25%, amounting to 5.9% of the working-age population), found work instead as couriers: demand for them tripled nationwide.

5. Hybrid working

Some Russians still work from home.

As of March 2021, a third of Russians who switched to home working had not gone back. Of those who had returned to the office, only half were working as usual, while the rest had moved to a hybrid mode, according to a study by And 53% of Russian companies intend to switch to hybrid working. “From an economic viewpoint, the ideal situation for an employer is full remote working, since it reduces office and other expenses,” says Boris Dobrodeyev, head of IT firm Group. “But we are not guided solely by economics, but by how best to motivate our employees to work.”

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