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By Cana Yao

Citing a decline in new coronavirus cases, officials in the Russian capital of Moscow lifted a requirement to wear gloves in shops, on public transport and in other public spaces on Friday. The gloves are coming off as American cities, including Washington, D.C., are reinstating mask mandates.

The COVID-19 situation in Moscow has “improved significantly,” wrote Mayor Sergei Sobyanin in a blog post announcing the news. Statistics show that the number of new cases in the city have dropped by 50% since mid-June.

The move comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status return to wearing face masks in coronavirus hotspots due to the fast-moving delta variant and slowing vaccination rates. Glove mandates have not been adopted in the US so far. Mask-wearing, which continues to be a subject of fierce political controversy in the United States, has also seen a rise in other regions. Moscow’s mask mandate isn’t being lifted either, Sobyanin wrote in his announcement on Friday.

“The use of masks for respiratory protection is still mandatory,” he wrote. “We must maintain this critical barrier to the spread of the virus until the number of new cases is reduced to a minimum.”

In May 2020--when less was known about airborne transmission compared to surface transmission of COVID-19--Moscow implemented a requirement to wear not only face masks but also latex gloves in public spaces. The fine for not wearing protective gear in public was set at around $50, and masks and gloves were sold in shops and on the Metro. Even as attention shifted to face masks and vaccination, the glove mandate remained, with renewed enforcement amid a summer surge in cases.

However, takeup of the measures seems to have been limited. While 94 percent of shoppers in the city were wearing protective gear in early June, that number had dropped to 68 percent by mid-July, according to the Tass news agency. Over $4 million in fines were handed down to 6,000 businesses for disregarding requirements during an enforcement push in July, the mayor’s office said.

Despite a nationwide vaccination push, Russia faced a spike in cases over the summer, peaking at more than 7,000 per day in early July. It has since dropped to below 4,000. Experts attributed the rise in new cases to not only the global problem of the fast-spreading delta variant, but also to persistently low vaccination rates, lingering at around 16 percent. The Russian government has moved forcefully to compel workers to get vaccinated by threatening retail and service employers as well as employees.

Regional Russian officials have imposed notably strict measures multiple times during the pandemic, including rules that forbid Muscovites from sitting on park benches and a requirement to show a QR code documenting vaccination status before eating in restaurants or cafes. Many have been lifted since then.


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