Russian holidaymakers turned away as Black Sea resorts shuttered

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (Reuters) – When Muscovite Vera Butakova arrived on Russia’s Black Sea coast to spend a week-long holiday proposed by President Vladimir Putin to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, she did not expect to get kicked out of her resort hotel.

Putin last Wednesday ordered workers from non-essential businesses nationwide to observe a week-long holiday this week, a measure he said would help the country combat the virus.

But despite pleas from the authorities for people to stay at home despite being off work, some Muscovites flew to Sochi, a popular resort some 1,354 km (841 miles) to the south, only to find that restrictions are now being enforced there too.

“I came here and no one was wearing masks. It was just amazing,” said Butakova, sporting sunglasses. “And yesterday it was a mess. They (my hotel) expelled me at midnight because Putin had issued some kind of order.”

Russia, which has so far recorded 1,836 coronavirus cases, has grounded international flights, closed its borders and urged the population to remain at home. Moscow introduced a partial lockdown of the city after cases there exceeded 1,000.

Moscow’s decision to tighten restrictions came after its mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said many had ignored the authorities’ calls to remain at home, strolling through the city despite restaurants and attractions being closed.

Butakova said she had been pleased with the atmosphere in Sochi before the week-long holiday began.

But the situation changed abruptly when regional authorities restricted public transport and ordered resorts and hotels to stop taking in new guests. A popular ski resort at Krasnaya Polyana, in the Caucasus mountains near Sochi, closed completely.

“It is good that the resort is closed… especially with tourists who see this week as days off for a vacation,” said Maria, a local resident. “It will lower the chances of the infection spreading.”

Vladimir Alexeyev, a Muscovite, arrived in Sochi before the week-long holiday came into force and was allowed to remain in his room.

“There is nothing to do here anymore,” said Alexeyev, who is returning to Moscow on Monday. “Everything is closed.”

Sochi, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, has been a popular tourist destination since Soviet times thanks to its subtropical climate, its pebbly shore and proximity to the mountains.

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