Russians opt for foreign beach breaks over COVID curbs


A medical specialist disinfects his hands in the intensive care unit (ICU) for patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the City Clinical Hospital named after S.Botkin in Oryol, Russia October 26, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Facing the toughest restrictions since the early months of the pandemic, many Russians have decided that now is an ideal time to fly off for a foreign beach holiday instead of hunkering down at home.

Workplaces across Russia are due to close in the first week of November for paid "non-working days" to slow the relentless spread of COVID-19. Russia on Wednesday reported 1,123 new COVID-19 deaths, its highest one-day toll of the pandemic so far.

In Moscow, unvaccinated over-60s have been locked down for four months, and shops other than pharmacies and supermarkets will shut from Thursday until Nov. 7.

An unintended consequence of the tightening curbs - accompanied by appeals to wear masks, observe social distancing and get vaccinated - has been a sharp increase in foreign travel bookings to destinations where Russia's flagship Sputnik V is recognised or where COVID entry requirements are cheap and easy.

"Don't quarantine, but holiday on the beach!" travel company Orange Sun Tour proclaims on its website osttour.ru, which offers breaks in Cyprus, Egypt, Cuba and other destinations.

Travel agent Polina Bondarenko said prices had shot up for trips to all available destinations.

"People are leaving in connection with this lockdown," she told Reuters, saying about 70% of travellers were vaccinated - well above the national level of just over one third.

Mkhissin Rami, a manager at Orange Sun Tour, said the rush had started right after the partial lockdowns were announced last week.

"No one wanted to stay in Moscow, because what can you do here, so demand went up by about five times, for sure," he said.

For Egypt, the most popular destination, the price of a week-long hotel break for two had surged to about 150,000 roubles ($2,130) compared with just over 100,000 normally, he told Reuters.

When asked to comment on the phenomenon of people escaping lockdown by flying abroad, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that medical professionals had expressed concerns and that there could be epidemiological consequences.

But Peskov said there was no ban on such holidays, none was planned, and that stopping people from moving around freely was an unwelcome measure of last resort.

Holidaymakers interviewed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport saw no apparent irony in their decision to escape the country just when the government is urging people to curb their movements.

"If we didn't take the trip now, we'd be sitting at home," said Nina, a resident of the Vladimir region east of Moscow, whose previous attempt to holiday in Turkey was thwarted when flights were cancelled last April.

Muscovite Alexandra said she wasn't frightened of COVID risks because hotels were keeping on top of the situation.

"It's not my first holiday this year, it's probably the fifth," she said. "They (hotels) are trying to follow and observe the rules. Plus I'm vaccinated - that won't save you but it will still help. Everything will be great."

($1 = 70.3175 roubles)

(Additonal reporting by Dmitry Antonov; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Andrew Osborn and William Maclean)

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