MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russians have long relied on dachas - out-of-town cottages with plots of land - as a source of refuge and food during times of political and economic turmoil.
Now that the number of coronavirus cases is creeping up in the cities, the second homes have taken on a new role: self-isolation hideouts.
Demand for rented dachas has surged around Moscow as people escape the crowded capital, where at the last count authorities had confirmed 1,226 infections, out of a total 1,836 nationwide. Six people have also died in Moscow due to the virus, authorities say.
Families who don’t already own one typically start renting dachas in May and return to them during the summer months for weekends and longer breaks.
Bookings have risen 14% over the past three weeks, compared with the same period the previous year, the INCOM Real Estate agency said.
“We attribute the surge in off-season renter activity mainly to the need for self-isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic,” INCOM’s Oksana Polyakova said.
“Going to the dacha is a way to weather the epidemic safely and to relax in the fresh air, or work remotely,” she said.
The private dacha plot survived Soviet-era land seizures by the state, and became a means of basic survival for many during food shortages.
Authorities in the Russian capital have announced a partial lockdown, ordering residents to stay at home from Monday in their toughest move yet to slow the spread of coronavirus, though people are still allowed to enter and exit the city.
Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin last week advised people over the age of 65, as well as those with chronic illnesses, to turn to their dachas once again to reduce the risk of infection.
Many younger people followed in their wake.
Andrei Vratskiy, co-owner of an IT company, said he and his colleagues had moved to their dachas for at least the next month.
“We have stocked up with three or four weeks’ worth of everyday food ... We’ve opted for delicious food, meat skewers, dumplings, and the like,” Vratskiy said.
Whenever he needs to go to the shops, he wears disposable gloves, a respirator mask and glasses. But there is less need for those protections back at the dacha.
“There’s no need to panic, we’re not panicking, we’re just minimizing the likelihood of getting infected, in a mathematical way,” he said.
Reporting by Lev Sergeev and Polina Ivanova; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Andrew Heavens