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McDonald’s cancels Big Mac’s 30th birthday in Russia over virus fears

A McDonald's-restaurant in Kaliningrad, Russia. (Spacekid/Wikimedia Commons).

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

McDonald’s in Russia is canceling its 30th anniversary promotional plan to offer its iconic Big Mac sandwiches at the Soviet-era price of 3 rubles ($0.05) on January 31 over public health concerns.

It said it would put the health of diners above other interests due to fears of a new respiratory virus from China spreading, the fast-food chain said on January 30.

“There’s nothing more important for us than the health of our guests and employees,” Marc Carena, general director of McDonald’s in Russia, said in a statement.

Russia has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus but on January 30 it closed its eastern land border with China and it has formed a task force to guard against infections.

Carena noted measures taken by local officials to avoid mass gatherings that could trigger the spread of the virus.

More than 7,900 people have been infected with the dangerous new illness and at least 170 have died. Also on January 30, Russia said it would stop issuing electronic visas to nationals of China, where the virus originated.

When the fast-food chain first opened in Russia on January 31, 1990, it was hailed as a sign of thawing Cold War relations and crowds in Moscow flocked to taste their first Big Mac at the centrally-located eatery on Pushkin Square.

The two all-beef patties sandwich with special sauce was pricey by Soviet standards costing 3.50 rubles, the equivalent of a monthly bus pass at the time.

Lately, the Chicago-based company has come under repeated pressure in Russia and had to temporarily close its flagship store — one of the busiest in the world — over alleged hygiene violations following Western sanctions over aggression toward Ukraine.

McDonald’s employs more than 50,000 people in Russia.