Coronavirus: Moscow transport operators told to report presence of Chinese nationals on buses, trains

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on February 24, 2020 Published on February 24, 2020

Using facial recognition to identify Chinese

Russia’s public transport operators have instructed bus drivers, metro workers, and tram officials in the national capital Moscow to be wary of Chinese people using public transport. The instruction comes as a measure to prevent coronavirus from spreading in Russia. The drivers have been asked to call a dispatcher if Chinese nationals boarded their buses, Associated Press has reported.

“Some Asian-looking (people) have just got on. Probably Chinese. Should I call (the police)?” a bus driver in Moscow, Russia, messaged his peers. “How do I figure out if they’re Chinese? Should I ask them?” his fellow in the bus replied.

The conversation between the driver and his fellows was revealed by the Associated Press source. According to the report by AP, the Russian authorities have undertaken stringent and ‘discriminatory’ measures that include ransacking dormitories and shops owned by Chinese nationals in the country, and using facial recognition machines to alienate them.

The report mentioned a leaked email by the Russian media agency stating that a state-owned transportation company, Mosgortrans, is coordinating with dispatchers to notify the police about the presence of Chinese nationals in public transport. The subject line of the email was ‘coronavirus’. However, Mosgortrans quashed media claims and described it as fake. The instructions have also been given to metro stations and street trams, among others.

So far, Russia has reported two cases of coronavirus. The patients were Chinese nationals, who had been admitted to hospital in Siberia, and have recuperated from the disease. More than 76,000 people have been infected in mainland China, and around 2,300 have died due to the epidemic. To stop the virus from spreading further in Russia, Moscow officials have ordered tracking down Chinese nationals and putting them in quarantine for 14 days.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said in a statement that conducting raids was an unpleasant task, but was necessary for potential carriers of the virus as well, AP reported.

Authorities hunting down Chinese

Russian authorities are conducting self-styled Cossack patrols in Moscow to track down Chinese. However, the major concern raised by the human rights activists in Russia was that the authorities are targeting all those who look like Chinese. Hence, it is not an effective epidemic control strategy, the AP report added.

Alyona Popova, an activist engaged in a year-long court challenge of Moscow’s use of facial recognition technology, told AP that prevention of any serious virus should involve a proper information campaign and not racial discrimination of people.

According to the Public Transport Workers’ Union Chairman Yuri Dashkov, the authorities are targeting everyone who appears like a Chinese national to them, including -- Vietnamese nationals, Japanese, and Yakutia tribes (a Russian tribe).

Dashkov also showed a few photos of on-bus electronic displays reading: “If Chinese nationals are discovered in the carriage, inform the dispatcher.”

Meanwhile, Russia has imposed an indefinite ban on Chinese nationals entering the country. Russia has shut down the country’s long land border with China, suspended all trains and most flights between the two countries.

Published on February 24, 2020
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