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Coronavirus: Few masks and little distancing as thousands pack Black Sea beaches in Russia & Ukraine

Tens of thousands of people descended on Black Sea beaches in Russia and Ukraine over the weekend but despite significant COVID-19 outbreaks in both countries, there was little evidence anyone was heeding public health advice.

Few were seen wearing face masks or trying to maintain social distancing on the overcrowded beaches of Odessa and Sochi.

Both are even more packed this year because of the EU's ban on travellers entering from outside the bloc. Fifteen countries have been exempted from the prohibition, but neither Russia nor Ukraine are on the list.

China, Vietnam and Thailand, other popular destinations, remain off-limits for foreigners too.

“We usually go abroad: the Emirates, Tunisia, Turkey, and we did plan to go again this year [...] but then our plan changed", said Tatyana Kofler, a Russian who is spending her summer leave in Sochi.

Hotel owners seem to be happy about the bonanza, which sent prices soaring.

“Our hotel is booked to the max, and the projections are very optimistic because preliminary bookings indicate the numbers will remain very good up to November,” said David Vardanyan, a Sochi hotel owner.

Alexan Mkrtchian, head of the Pink Elephant tourist agency, noted that the jump in demand resulted in a 50% increase in hotel prices in Sochi.

Russia and Ukraine, however, are continuing to record high numbers of COVID-19 infections.

Russia is still reporting thousands of new infections a day, and the country has the world's fourth-largest coronavirus caseload, with more than 687,000 cases.

Moscow's lockdown ended almost a month ago, but restrictions are still in place in several other regions across the country.

Ukraine, which lifted most confinement measures last month, has seen infections reaching new highs in recent weeks, prompting the authorities to consider re-imposing restrictions in some areas.

The country has reported over 50,000 COVID-19 cases and almost 1,300 related deaths.

“The Ukrainians are afraid of the coronavirus less than anyone in the world," said Fazil Askerov, chairman of the Tourism Development Association in the Odessa region. “Our tourists are braver.”

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