For Migrants in Russia, Virus Means No Money to Live and No Way to Leave

MOSCOW — Migrant workers from Central Asia, shrugging off the risk of coronavirus infection, have gathered in groups each day outside their countries’ embassies in Moscow, banging on doors and fences and shouting for officials to come out and tell them when they can finally get on a charter flight home.With regular flights canceled, charters offer the only feasible way out for the more than five million migrant workers from former Soviet republics now stranded in Russia as a result of the pandemic, with many living in increasingly dire circumstances.While Russia has been battered by the virus, with the third most cases in the world after the United States and Brazil, the crisis has hit migrant workers especially hard, as they were the first to lose their jobs and often the last to receive medical help.Many have no money for food and, once infected with the coronavirus, have been left in crowded dorms to fight the disease by themselves. Many would like to return to their countries.Before the pandemic hit, more than 15 flights left Moscow each day for various cities in Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous nation. Today, there are only two charters a week, and the embassy’s waiting list has more than 80,000 names.One of those waiting is Botir Mukhammadiev, who was living in Moscow with his mother, Gulya, a nanny, and working as a barista with Russia’s biggest coffee shop chain.“They fired all the migrant workers first,” said Mr. Mukhammadiev, 26. “Even though I have all the documents that allow me to work, even a diploma from a Russian university, I cannot get any job now.”He said that he and his mother had been waiting for two months to go back and that they were worried about being evicted from their apartment because they could no longer afford to pay the rent.Russia, more prosperous than the hardscrabble former Soviet lands in Central Asia but facing a population decline, has a voracious appetite for migrant labor, a need that is sharply at odds with government policy and the nationalist and sometimes racist sentiments of the Russian public.While the Kremlin is reluctant to admit that the country needs migrants, demographers say that Russia has to attract at least 500,000 migrants every year to compensate for the country’s low birthrate and high mortality levels.Since 2005, the main thrust of Russia’s migration policy has been to lure back to the motherland all the ethnic Russians who found themselves living in what many considered foreign countries after the Soviet collapse. But that pool is being depleted, according to Ekaterina B. Demintseva, a researcher of migrant issues at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.“What we saw over the past 20 years, when many Russians returned, we will not see in the future,” Ms. Demintseva said.A migrant’s life has never been easy in Russia. Lured by higher salaries, visa-free entrance and a common Soviet heritage, migrants from Central Asia often live in cramped apartments and dorms, frequently sharing a room with up to 10 other workers. Police officers habitually harass them. Many local Russians express a loathing of them. If they are fired, employers often do not pay their final salaries.There are no precise official figures available, but migrants are believed to contribute up to 10 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product. With the average salary in Russia five times that of Tajikistan and at least twice what it is in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, migrants are typically willing to work for around $600 a month in Moscow — less than Russians.Many of Moscow’s taxi drivers, couriers, waiters, street sweepers, janitors and construction workers are migrants from Central Asia or the South Caucasus. Some affluent Russians take entire families of migrants into their suburban homes as household help.“Migrant workers make a significant contribution to Russia’s development,” said Imomuddin M. Sattorov, Tajikistan’s ambassador to Russia. “In contrast to migrants who work in European countries and have a status and receive some social guarantees, our workers just come, work and pay taxes.”The coronavirus crisis has magnified the inferior status of migrant workers. The police, for example, have locked up entire dorms when one person has become infected.In Moscow, the coronavirus lockdown deprived 76 percent of migrant workers of their jobs, and 58 percent lost all their income, according to a poll conducted by Evgeni Varshaver, head of the Group for Migration and Ethnicity Research. Among Russians, 42 percent lost employment and 23 percent lost all income, Mr. Varshaver said the poll found.Many migrants survive in Russia today thanks only to help from charities and embassies.Saidnumon Mansurov, head of the Moscow office of the Uzbek State Agency for External Labor Migration, said his phone beeped every other minute with messages from migrants asking for food and other assistance. With the help of rights groups and charities, his agency delivers up to 750 meals a day.Over the past few years, the inflow of migrant workers has been falling. The weakening ruble and poor treatment have prompted many people in Central Asia to look to other destinations. Many Uzbeks already work in South Korea, for instance.Even amid this drop, some have called for Russia to introduce visa requirements with Central Asian countries. Aleksei A. Navalny, President Vladimir V. Putin’s most vocal critic in the opposition, has been campaigning for it.

Updated June 12, 2020

Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?
Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?
Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Migrant workers face discrimination despite the long common history shared by Russia and the Central Asian states.Russian news outlets often portray Central Asian migrants as unwanted aliens. Over the past few months, some publications have speculated that jobless migrants will have no choice but to form gangs and start robbing ethnic Russians — even though the number of crimes committed by migrants dropped in the first three months of this year, according to Moscow’s mayor, Sergei S. Sobyanin.“My view is that any ideology needs an enemy,” said Zarnigor Omonillayeva, an Uzbek human rights lawyer who helps migrants. “Migrants are just being used as such whenever they need.”But the discrimination long endured by the migrants may have become even more pronounced during the coronavirus crisis, with basic health care sometimes denied them.As Gulnara Dzhengabayeva discovered, ambulance drivers frequently refuse to take migrants to the hospital, though it is illegal. Ms. Dzhengabayeva, a 56-year-old Uzbek, had been working as a private nurse, caring for the sick in Russian families. In April, she took care of two older people who later died of Covid-19. She subsequently fell ill herself.She called an ambulance, but the driver refused to take her to the hospital. She then went to a clinic, but doctors there refused to treat her. She finally resorted to calling a doctor in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, for advice on treatment.“The government supports imperialistic and chauvinistic sentiments among the Russian people,” said Ms. Omonillayeva, the rights lawyer. “Migrantophobia is real in Russia.”At the end of April, following calls from rights activists, Mr. Sobyanin, Moscow’s mayor, urged health care services to make sure migrants receive the help they needed.“These are people who live in Moscow, worked in Moscow but ended up in such a situation because of the circumstances,” Mr. Sobyanin said in an interview with the TV news channel Rossiya-24. “You cannot envy them.”

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