An assistant wearing protective face masks amid the outbreak of the coronavirus in central Moscow. Reuters
Hundreds of Moscow residents flocked to an open-air book fair in Red Square though some publishing houses opted to stay away as city authorities keep most coronavirus restrictions in place.
Organisers of the annual book fair, which was attended by 300,000 people last year, have implemented numerous measures to stem the spread of the virus – with chairs spaced one metre apart and temperature checks at the entrance.
“You either mourn that the industry is in crisis or go and take part in the book fair with all the precautions in place,” said Natalia Eihwald from the Kompas-Gid children’s publishing house, one of about 180 publishers with stalls at the fair. She and her colleagues had to take coronavirus tests ahead of the event, which drew up to 600 visitors within hours of its opening.
Some independent publishers refused to take part, however, citing the possible health risk.
“We don’t want to put our employees and our authors as well as our readers at risk,” said Pavel Podkosov, director general of the Alpina Non-Fiction publishing house, which lost up to 60% of its income due to the lockdown compared with the same period last year.
“(Taking part) would be like staging a carnival in a hospital ward, which doesn’t sound like much fun to us,” he added.
Most lockdown restrictions will remain in place in Moscow until at least June 14 and large public events are still banned. Because Red Square is controlled by the federal government, the state-organised book fair was able to go ahead.
Along with social distancing measures and temperature checks, Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor consumer safety watchdog ordered frequent sanitation of the book fair site and mandatory use of face masks and gloves.
The event organiser, Russia’s state agency in charge of press and communications, Rospechyat, said it was an important way to support the publishing industry.
From June 1, Moscow has allowed residents to resume outdoor activities and walks for short periods. Some stores, including book shops, also reopened.
Russia has nearly 460,000 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Saturday, the world’s third-biggest number after the United States and Brazil.