Putin’s Spokesman Gets Coronavirus as Cases Soar in Russia

Date: 2020-05-13 15:23:56


President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman became the latest top official to fall ill with the coronavirus as Russia overtook Spain to record the world’s second-highest number of infections from the deadly disease.

Dmitry Peskov told Interfax on Tuesday he is receiving treatment for the virus. He joins Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and the country’s construction and culture ministers as diagnosed with Covid-19. Peskov, traditionally the official with the closest day-to-day access to Putin, said in a text message he last met the president in person over a month ago. Putin has been conducting government business mostly via video-conferences from his residence outside Moscow.

Putin on Monday announced an end to national stay-at-home restrictions but the move is unlikely to give businesses in the capital and other major cities a rapid boost.

In Moscow, business leaders see little chance of escaping restrictions that have hammered their activities since being introduced at the end of March. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said last week that the measures must remain until at least May 31 because the pathogen is still spreading. Putin’s decision shifted responsibility to regional leaders for deciding the pace of easing, leaving them to face public criticism for maintaining the limitations.

Despite the lockdowns, Russia has reported at least 10,000 new daily infections for the past 10 days, lifting its total to 232,243 and second only to the U.S. At the same time, Russia has one of the world’s lowest mortality rates with Covid-19 listed as the cause of death in only 2,116 cases, leading critics to claim that the government is withholding data.

“In high-risk areas the situation won’t improve rapidly. This is a matter of weeks or maybe months,” said Alexey Repik, president of the Delovaya Rossiya business association. In big cities, the policy on relaxing the quarantine will be applied “much more harshly because the situation is really difficult,” he added.

Amid the fallout from both coronavirus-related shutdowns and the epidemic’s impact on collapsing demand for oil, the country’s most important export, economic activity has contracted by a third since the lockdown began. Russian car sales showed a record 72% decline in April, according to data published Tuesday, and a gauge of services last week slumped the most since reporting began in 2001.

As the crisis batters living standards and threatens a surge in unemployment, Putin’s approval rating has fallen to the lowest since he came to power more than 20 years ago, an opinion poll showed on May 6.

State-run Rossiya 24 TV news channel, which had encouraged public support for the restrictions by broadcasting from presenters’ homes during the lockdown, switched back to its regular studios after Putin’ decision to end the stay-at-home orders.

Some people rushed to take advantage of Putin’s order. An index developed by Yandex, Russia’s largest tech company, measuring the scale of compliance with self-isolation measures in Moscow fell to its lowest level on Tuesday since the epidemic began, the state-run RIA Novosti reported.

In contrast, Sobyanin, who has helped lead the country’s coronavirus response, has tightened restrictions. He ordered that people wear masks and gloves in public from Tuesday, with a 5,000-ruble fine ($68) for non-compliance, even as he has allowed construction and industrial companies to resume work.

The mayor has estimated that around 300,000 people in the capital have coronavirus, or more than double the official number, and warned that the city wouldn’t return to normal life anytime soon.

“Although we are seeing a certain stabilization of the pandemic we understand that the likelihood or the risk of the infection spreading will remain for a long time,” Sobyanin said on Monday. “So we must ensure normal life for our towns and cities while taking into account the new reality.”

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