June 23, 2020 / 12:30 PM / a month ago

Russians throng river cruises as Moscow lockdown eases ahead of vote

Cruise vessels sail along the Moskva River during an annual parade marking the start of navigation following the easing of lockdown measures, which were imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russians soaked up the sun on boat cruises on the river Moskva on Tuesday for the first time in three months after authorities lifted many of the city’s last remaining restrictions aimed at halting the novel coronavirus.

Officials in the city of 12.7 million, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, say new infections have been falling from a peak in May and stood at just over 1,000 on Tuesday. Russia’s national case load, the world’s third highest, is nearly 600,000.

The city, which began rapidly relaxing an array of lockdown restrictions earlier this month, on Tuesday allowed restaurants, cafes, libraries, playgrounds and gyms to open properly and for river cruises to resume.

Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said late on Monday that life in the capital had already largely returned to its normal rhythm, but warned that some restrictions remained in force including a ban on mass public events such as protests.

Sobyanin’s critics accuse him of rushing to ease the lockdown in time to allow a Red Square military parade on Wednesday and a July 1 nationwide vote that could extend President Vladimir Putin’s rule until 2036.

A brass band played on the roof of one boat cruise passing near the Kremlin’s terra-cotta walls, while on another passengers - mostly in medical masks and gloves - waved their hats at people watching from the embankment.

“It’s a beautiful sunny day today,” said Olga Kacheva, the Radisson Flotilla’s deputy marketing director. “We’re starting up again after three months on standby.”

Authorities have urged residents to continue wearing masks and gloves and to observe social distancing rules. But on Tuesday the streets were bustling and many people were ignoring those guidelines.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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