The local executive and medical authorities have attributed the surge of COVID-19 cases in North Ossetia — Alania to an unsanctioned rally that took place in Vladikavkaz in April. The Head of Republic, Vyacheslav Bitarov, connected the protests to the recent arson of a cellular phone tower.
During a press conference on 2 May, Vyacheslav Bitarov said that the settlement of Nogir, several kilometres north of the republic’s capital, Vladikavkaz, has been left without cellular service after a cell tower was burned down by residents who feared 5G technology.
Since the global outbreak of COVID-19, a conspiracy theory has been disseminated globally, mostly through the internet, that links the pandemic to upcoming fifth-generation (5G) mobile network technology.
The World Health Organisation has refuted any connection between COVID-19 and 5G.
The Head of North Ossetia complained that there were people both in his Republic as well as worldwide who believed that novel coronavirus pandemic was a hoax.
Bitarov did not hesitate to recall his encounter with the participants of the rally against the stay-at-home order on 20 April in Vladikavkaz.
‘Some insist there is no coronavirus and no danger, that it’s been organised by some global powers seeking, as some rally participants told me, putting them in reservations, in order to install 5G antennas after that which would send out electromagnetic waves, make them faint to have microchips put in their bodies. There are more than a few who think like this’, Bitarov said.
‘They are already committing crimes’, Bitarov said of the people who had participated in the anti-stay-at-home rally on 20 April. He did not name any specific perpetrators or share any information about a possible investigation.
Authorities in North Ossetia have portrayed participants of the rally on 20 April as largely mostly those who deny the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
State-run media has identified Vadim Chyeldiyev, a prominent opera singer and philanthropist from North Ossetia, as the organiser of the rally, dubbing him a ‘corona-dissident’.
Chyeldiyev, who is a fierce government critic, has on numerous occasions questioned media reports on COVID-19 and claimed they were part of a wide-ranging government conspiracy to neutralise opposition forces.
Chyeldiyev, who permanently resides in Saint Petersburg, had never publicly committed to attending the 20 April rally, was apprehended by police before the protest and was charged with spreading false information and assaulting police. He has also since been indicted on a charge of extremism.
The anti-stay-at-home protest outside the government building in Vladikavkaz, held almost two weeks ago, culminated in a clash with police, hours after Bitarov failed to convince protesters to disperse peacefully.
[Read more on OC Media: Police clash with anti-stay-at-home protesters in North Ossetia]
Following the rally, 64 participants have been charged, most for disobeying police orders or for participating in an unsanctioned rally. On 1 May, North Ossetia’s Supreme Court upheld the pre-trial detention of five protestors who are accused of throwing rocks at officers of the Russian National Guard.
While a number protesters were reported to have expressed views in which they questioned the veracity of the COVID-19 outbreak, its severity, and the legitimacy and scope of local government measures, local independent social media channels and bloggers have described the rally as a result of a decrease in population’s personal incomes, anxiety over economic uncertainty, and a lack of information.
Medical authorities in North Ossetia condemned the gathering, some calling it a ‘hotbed for COVID-19 transmission’.
On 27 April, the deputy head of local Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Welfare and Protection) Zaryema Kabolova claimed that the ‘surge’ of confirmed cases in the Republic was ‘connected’ with the rally a week earlier.
On 20 April, Rospotrebnadzor confirmed 211 new cases of COVID-19 infection in North Ossetia. Over 1,000 cases have been registered in the republic to date.