Moscow Targets Chinese With Raids Amid Coronavirus Fears

New Delhi: Bus drivers in Moscow kept their WhatsApp group chat buzzing with questions this week about what to do if they spotted passengers who might be from China riding with them in the Russian capital.

“Some Asian-looking (people) have just got on. Probably Chinese. Should I call (the police)?” one driver messaged his peers.

“How do I figure out if they’re Chinese? Should I ask them?” a colleague wondered.

The befuddlement reflected in screenshots of the group exchanges seen by The Associated Press had a common source – instructions from Moscow’s public transit operator Wednesday for drivers to call a dispatcher if Chinese nationals boarded their buses, Russian media reported.

A leaked email that the media reports said was sent by the state-owned transportation company Mosgortrans told dispatchers who took such calls to notify the police.

The email, which the company immediately described on Twitter as fake, carried a one-word subject line: coronavirus.

Since the outbreak of the new virus that has infected more than 76,000 people and killed more than 2,300 in mainland China, Russia has reported two cases.

Both patients, Chinese nationals hospitalised in Siberia, recovered quickly.

Russian authorities nevertheless are going to significant some argue discriminatory  lengths to keep the virus from resurfacing and spreading.

Moscow officials ordered police raids of hotels, dormitories, apartment buildings and businesses to track down the shrinking number of Chinese people remaining in the city.

They also authorised the use of facial recognition technology to find those suspected of evading a 14-day self-quarantine period upon their arrival in Russia.

“Conducting raids is an unpleasant task, but it is necessary, for the potential carriers of the virus as well,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said in a statement outlining various methods to find and track Chinese people the city approved as a virus prevention strategy.

The effort to identify Chinese citizens on public transportation applies not only to buses, but underground trains and street trams in Moscow, Russian media reported Wednesday.

Metro workers were instructed to stop riders from China and ask them to fill out questionnaires asking why they were in Russia and whether they observed the two-week quarantine, the reports said.

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