Sixty percent of the Russian population would have been vaccinated this summer. So far, only 6.5 percent of all Russians have been fully vaccinated. And that while on the street it seems like corona no longer exists, correspondent Iris de Graaf sees:
The taxi will drop us off in front of the old, dilapidated Kresty prison, on the Neva River in St. Petersburg. Part of the former detention center has been converted into a hip club.
It‘s snowing, there’s lights and there‘s a long line of young people to go in. I’m joining in line, almost nervous. Like I‘m gonna do something illegal. But it is not in Russia.
The bags are checked – the temperature is not. “Mouth caps must be off inside,” says the security guard. I wonder out loud if this is a good idea. It feels double, even if this is officially allowed in Russia. Hundreds of people will be around me dancing, sweating, singing. We decide to leave the club for what it is.
This double feeling also prevails when I walk through the streets of my place in Moscow. Everything’s been open for a few months. Restaurants are packed. Now that the weather is nice, terraces appear everywhere, with tables and chairs right next to each other. Shopping, going to the gym, meeting with your friends in bars and nightclubs – it‘s all possible here.
In some places there are signs: a mudcap is mandatory, please keep your distance. But hardly anyone adheres to it, and there is certainly no one at all to speak to anyone else. Mouth caps often hang on the chin, everyone is standing shoulder to shoulder in line, buses and subways are packed. On the seats there are crosses to keep spots free, but no chair remains unused.
“We’re gonna die anyway.”
Although there is a tendency in Europe to bring things back to normal only when everyone has been vaccinated, it seems the opposite way around here.
Last August, Russia proudly announced to be the first to land with a registered vaccine, Sputnik-V. The goal was to have given at least 60 percent of its own population two doses this summer. But so far only 6.5 percent of Russians have been completely pricked. According to a recent study by the independent research center Levada, 70 percent of Russians do not want to take the vaccine for the time being.
“ To create readiness for a vaccine, there must be general confidence in the government and in the health institutions that developed the vaccine. That is missing in Russia,” says Anton Gontsjarov, researcher at Levada. “Most people here are sceptical of the authorities, and therefore also about vaccination.”
Passers-by in the busy shopping streets are divided on the usefulness and risks of vaccines:
In the last three months, I‘ve spoken to a lot of Russians. Do they not fear that they or their loved ones will become ill?
“ I have already been sick, so I already have antibodies,” is a common reaction. But also: “I have a strong immune system, I do not get sick.” Or, “I have worse things to worry about. We will die eventually anyway.” That’s the ‘typical Russian fatalism‘, I hear often here. “It‘s in our mentality not to worry.”
In the background the fact that on Russian state television corona is virtually no longer a subject. It is particularly applauded how well the country has tackled the pandemic, ‘in contrast to Europe with its long lockdowns‘.
The official statistics show a stable, falling figure – for months. Up to now, about 100,000 people in Russia have died from the consequences of the pandemic. But the overdeath counter is over 300,000. According to critics, the actual number of coronadodes is therefore much higher.
“We are young, we must live.”
Virtually nowhere is there to be seen or to find out how things really go in hospitals. Occasionally poignant videos appear on social media of poor conditions and crowded regional hospitals.
But these images do not reach a large part of the Russians and do not stop them from living their lives as if corona no longer exists. For Nieuwsuur we decide to visit a number of nightclubs in Moscow’s most famous entertainment street, Kitaj-Gorod. We stick to the measures and film with a phone, because we did not get official permission to film inside. Our mouthcaps attract attention anyway, we‘re the only ones with.
The Russians don’t seem to be worried about anything. Young girls in glitter dresses and boys with the latest Jordan sneakers hopping from bar to bar:
We also encounter the ‘typical Russian fatalism’ among the youngsters who smoke in front of the club. “I‘m not worried about corona, I was sick last year.” Or, “We’re young, we need to live. We‘re gonna die anyway. I amglad that Russia is no longer in lockdown.”
For Club Rainbow I speak to a girl with white mascara and a diamond on her tooth. In the background the song I want to break free of Queen sounds. She tells her birthday, and her friends take her to the newest hip club. I’m asking her if she recognizes my double feeling. “It feels pretty crazy yes, that everything is open. But especially nice. I‘m not afraid. Last year, I felt like I’d lost my whole childhood. We are now trying to make up for that lost year.”