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Moscow is harnessing the power of facial recognition technology to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The city’s mayor said on Friday that the tech was being used in Russia’s capital in an effort to dissuade people placed under quarantine from leaving their home or hotel.

In a bid to protect its population of around 146 million from the deadly virus, Russia has temporarily banned citizens of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from crossing into Russia. Any Russian natives returning from the PRC are under strict orders to remain at home for a minimum of two weeks.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that approximately 2,500 people had been ordered to observe the quarantine after returning to the capital from the PRC. 

Sobyanin wrote on his website: “Compliance with the regime is constantly monitored, including with the help of facial recognition systems and other technical measures.”

Moscow began using facial recognition technology in January this year as part of its city security surveillance program. According to Sobyanin, the city’s surveillance technology has been an effective tool when it comes to identifying and tracking down those who disobey orders to impose a self-quarantine. 

On his website, the mayor describes an incident in which a woman who had returned from a trip to the PRC was caught disobeying the quarantine order. According to Sobyanin, surveillance footage showed the woman leaving her apartment to meet with friends. 

Authorities used the footage to track down the woman and the taxi driver who collected her from the airport, Sobyanin said. The mayor described raids by authorities against possible coronavirus patients as “unpleasant but necessary.”

Moscow’s rigorous enforcement of quarantine rules follows the escape of Alla Ilyina from a hospital in St Petersburg, where she said she was being kept in quarantine against her will after returning from the PRC. 

Ilyina, who said doctors had promised to isolate her for just 24 hours but then tried to hold her for 14 days, was ordered by a Russian court to return to the hospital from which she fled and to stay there under quarantine for at least two more days.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was not cogent of the actions being taken in Moscow to curb the spread of the virus but emphasized that any such measures should not be discriminatory.

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