Russia's lockdown extended as peak of Covid-19 outbreak looms

Putin says rules may ease from May 12th but virus threat nearing ‘top level’

Russian president Vladimir Putin: “We all need to be fully concentrated, disciplined and mobilised.” Photograph: Alexey Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP

Russian president Vladimir Putin: “We all need to be fully concentrated, disciplined and mobilised.” Photograph: Alexey Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP

 

Russian president Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to draw up plans for a phased lifting of the coronavirus lockdown from May 12th, while warning that the peak of the nation’s Covid-19 outbreak still lies ahead.

“We are now facing a new, and perhaps the most intense, stage of the battle with the epidemic. The risks of infection are reaching the top level, the threat and lethal danger from the virus remain,” he told senior officials via video link.

“We cannot talk about removing the coronavirus restrictions all at once. Even when the peak has been overcome, the situation in various regions may remain intense. A hard and difficult path lies ahead.”

Russia announced a record one-day rise of 6,411 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, taking its national total to 93,558. Its official death toll from Covid-19 is 867 people – a strikingly low figure that raises questions about Russia’s data. By comparison, the Republic of Ireland had registered 19,877 cases and 1,159 deaths as of Tuesday.

No complacency

Mr Putin said hospitals nationwide had exceeded his target for coronavirus beds, but he cautioned against complacency and extended a current “non-working period” from the end of April to May 11th.

“We all need to be fully concentrated, disciplined and mobilised,” he said in the televised meeting with health officials and regional leaders.

“We must ensure that the wave of the epidemic subsides and finally starts to fall, to allow us – step-by-step, cautiously – to lift restrictions . . . The more strictly we Russian citizens observe the necessary requirements now, and follow the rules of self-isolation and quarantine, then the quicker all this will pass.”

The pandemic forced Mr Putin (67) to cancel plans for a huge May 9th Victory Day parade to mark 75 years since the end of the second World War, and an April public vote on constitutional changes that would allow him to rule until 2036.

Coronavirus and oil

He said on Tuesday that it was time to start planning for Russia’s recovery, however, as the economy reels from the double blow of the coronavirus crisis and a slump in world oil prices.

Mr Putin gave the government and other officials until next Tuesday to “prepare recommendations . . . for a gradual exit from restrictions starting from May 12th”.

“I ask the government, together with the regions and business, to start work on a major national action plan for normalising business life, restoring employment, citizens’ incomes and economic growth,” he added.

Amid criticism from opposition figures over his failure to give significant help to private businesses and their employees, Mr Putin ordered the government to come up with a new financial assistance package.

“Putin addressed the nation for a fourth time,” protest leader Alexei Navalny tweeted, “and again ignored the tiny little question worrying about 80 million people: But what should we live on during quarantine?”