The Russian Ministry of Defence ordered thousands of troops into a two week quarantine after a Red Square military parade in Moscow they were rehearsing for was called off because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Up to 15 000 troops were due to parade alongside military hardware on May 9 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War Two victory, an event the Kremlin hoped would showcase Russia’s military and diplomatic clout.
A sombre President Vladimir Putin was forced to push back commemorations to a later, unspecified date.
Putin said the Victory Day events, including the parade he personally oversees from a raised stand every year, were “sacred” to Russians, but the coronavirus outbreak meant it was too risky to stage.
TV footage of rehearsals showed thousands of troops marching in lockstep at a training ground outside Moscow earlier this month. There was no evidence of social distancing and none were wearing masks.
All soldiers in the rehearsals would be sent back to their permanent garrisons across the country where they would be isolated for a fortnight, the defence ministry’s Zvezda TV channel said.
The ministry did not say if the quarantine was more than a precaution and whether any soldiers were ill or under observation. It added all military vehicles, trains and aircraft used would be disinfected.
The soldiers were issued personal protective equipment for the rebasing, it said.
Russian media reports suggest the virus has spread among those in rehearsals.
The head of St Petersburg’s Nakhimov cadet school, who was rehearsing for the parade, told the Fontanka media outlet on April 16 he was in hospital with a fever and tested for coronavirus. His results had not yet come back.
Confirmed infections in Russia rose rapidly this month, despite authorities imposing lockdown restrictions.
Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported as of the end of March, three people in the military had coronavirus and at least 133 people were under observation.
Later, the defence ministry said the coronavirus situation was stable and entirely controllable, RIA news agency reported. On Thursday the ministry said 14 servicemen and a civilian were diagnosed with coronavirus at a cadet school in the Siberian region Tyumen.