Residents of townships in the Chelyabinsk region in southern Urals are rebelling against the deployment of quarantine centers for Chinese citizens and the Russians who have visited China near their homes. They are making attempts to block the roads to the centers for buses and hold unauthorized demonstrations, even committing arsons.
This is the second time that the executives of the Chelyabinsk region have faced with the fact that the residents of the villages near which the quarantine centers accepting the Chinese and Russians who have recently visited China are located, are protesting massively against this neighbourhood. Initially, a quarantine center of this kind was placed in the Topolyok health retreat near the village of Varna. At the beginning of February, pensioners who were on holidays there started to be taken out of Topoloyk because it had to prepare beds for at least 50 people, who had visited China. According to the employees, first of all, a total of 27 people were to be delivered to Topolyok. This health and wellness retreat is located 3 km away from the village of Varna where at least 10,000 people live in houses located right on the territory of the center itself.
Already on February 6-7, information about the quarantine center became known to the whole township, and people began to gather for actions of protest, trying to block the road to Topolyok in order not to let in the buses. However, law enforcement officers managed to stop it. Anatoly Vekshin, deputy governor of the Chelyabinsk region, arrived on the scene.
The press service of the regional government said that due to mass protests, it was decided to move the quarantine center to a resort, which is located near the village of Uzhovka in Sosnovsky district of the Chelyabinsk region. According to Maria Khvorostova, the senior spokesperson of the Chelyabinsk region government, only healthy people are placed in the quarantine centers for constant monitoring. If disease symptoms are detected, the patients will be rushed to infectious disease departments of local hospitals. Therefore, there is nothing to be afraid of in the villages and townships nearby. The healthcare ministry of Chelyabinsk region explained that quarantine centers are opened throughout the country at the request of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor).
Irina Gekht, first vice-governor of the Chelyabinsk region commented on the situation in Varna. According to her, at present, there is not a single case of coronavirus in the region. All measures taken in the Chelyabinsk region are of a preventive nature. And it was made not for scaremongering but to ensure the life and health of our people.
Temporary accommodation facilities for Chinese citizens have been established in the region, as well as in the entire country. "I am sure that our people will respond to these measures with understanding, without creating horror stories and terrifying images around this situation," said Gekht. “Take care of yourself by observing basic preventive measures. I am confident that in the coming week or two all of it will be over.”
However, the local residents did not believe the officials and they continue taking turns on duty at the entrance of Topolyok, and some of them have taken their cars there to prevent the buses from passing.
On Sunday, February 9, a similar protest action began near another quarantine center, which was opened as an alternative for Topolyok in the Utes boarding house, also in Sosnovsky district. Usually, elderly people who received board and treatment vouchers from the Ministry of Social Relations, used to spend holidays there in wintertime. But at the moment, their stays at the holiday center are cancelled. The staff claims that they are currently preparing the places for accommodation of 50 to 100 people. The locals say the holiday center is actually not fenced off, children walk on its territory, and its buildings are located in a few hundred meters from residential houses. Raisa Kosareva, head of the Rospotrebnadzor's epidemiological department of the Chelyabinsk region came to meet with the protesters. The chief medical officer of the Sosnovsky district hospital gave the protesters a talk either. People were given the explanations that there is no danger. The regional Ministry of Health reported that now, there is a native of China in the quarantine center, and he has no symptoms of the coronavirus. He is healthy but must stay under observation. Therefore, there is no reason to panic. However, protesters have decided to be on duty at the site in turns in order to keep the situation under control. Law enforcement officers are also at the site of the protests.
"In my opinion, boarding houses and recreation facilities, which are so numerous in Russia’s regions, are completely not adapted for that purpose,” said Elena Stepanova, a Candidate of Medicine and an employee of a private medical center in Moscow. “Mostly, these premises haven not been repaired for a long time. They are poorly heated and have only a minimal set of medical equipment. Even just living there for two weeks would be extremely uncomfortable. But I understand the local authorities: they simply don't have other premises. The situation has not yet become grave so far due the fact that there are very few Chinese or the people who have visited China in the regions. Mostly, they come to Moscow.”
According to political technologist Dmitry Melnikov, in the summer of 2019, the Marketing and Sociology Research Center conducted a study in Chelyabinsk which indicated that the residents of Chelyabinsk in the age group of 45 to 59 years old are ready to take to the streets. In addition, in December last year, the research conducted by the Chelyabinsk branch of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) shows that a third of Chelyabinsk residents have positive attitudes towards mass protests. "I believe that the authorities should have taken into account these facts and sentiments before approving and implementing socially unpopular decisions,” says Melnikov.
As previously reported, on February 4 general schools and universities in Chelyabinsk and the Chelyabinsk region were closed for quarantine until further notice.