Moscow book fair brings out Pushkin fans, lockdown-weary

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Seagulls sit on the head of a sculpture of Russian poet Aleksander Pushkin on the day of his 221st birthday in Naziya village, 80 km (50 miles) east of St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

MOSCOW (AP) — Muscovites clad in facemasks and gloves ventured into Red Square for an outdoor book market Saturday, a small sign of gradual efforts to open the Russian capital back up amid the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

Although the city’s ban on public gatherings continues, authorities gave permission for the market to take place with restrictions. Daily attendance at the outdoor bookstalls is limited to 6,000, with visitors divided into five two-hour shifts. All the shoppers had to apply for permission and receive QR codes for admittance.

Many of the attendees appeared unconcerned about social distancing while they browsed, but market workers periodically sprayed the books and shelves with disinfectant.

“Today is a breakthrough to normal life,” Vladimir Tolstoy, the culture adviser for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters at the market’s opening.

The opening of the three-day market corresponded with the birthday of beloved Russian author Alexander Pushkin.

“We found ourselves here because it’s Pushkin’s birthday. We were looking for what events were being held for this day, and we learned that this festival was taking place right on Red Square,” said Konstantin Tereshov, who came to the festival with his wife and children. ”And since it’s the first such big event since quarantine, we were happy to come here with our kids..”

Tolstoy also invoked the 19th century author as an inspiration for venturing out.

“Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was a freedom-loving, free and daring poet. He challenged all the dangers and adversities of his time,” he said.

Moscow has been the epicenter of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, accounting for about half the country’s more than 458,000 confirmed cases and 5.725 deaths. But as the number of new infections appears to level off, restrictions are slowly being lifted.

Many businesses were allowed to reopen this week, although restaurants are still limited to takeaway service. The city also authorized residents to go for walks, although only on certain days according to schedules based on where they live.

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Daniel Kozin in Moscow contributed to this story.

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