The Irish Times view on Russia’s Covid-19 crisis: Putin’s mixed messages

Hospitals are overflowing and medical equipment is in desperately short supply

Moscow accounts for half of all Russia’s Covid-19 cases. But in this vast country, there are alarming reports of rapid coronavirus spread in economically vital, remote oil and gas production settlements and construction sites above the Arctic Circle. Huge workforces, regularly rotated in from all over the country, live there cheek by jowl and have been largely untested for the virus until recently. In one such place, Belokamenka, a supply facility for a $21 billion liquid-natural-gas project on a remote bay in the Barents Sea, media reports say, 1,145 people of the 5,000-strong workforce have tested positive.

With Russia recording daily highs of new cases and deaths, President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday extended the country's lockdown for two weeks. "Ahead of us is a new stage, perhaps the most intense stage of the fight against the epidemic," he warned. The country yesterday reported 5,841 new cases, bringing the overall nationwide tally to 99,399. Another 72 people died from the virus on Tuesday, total deaths rising to 867.

Putin, who appears to have devolved much of the management of the crisis to regional leaders and did not impose lockdown on major cities until March 30th, directed his government to begin preparing guidelines for a “phased exit”, and to work on a new “package of urgent measures to support the economy”.

It would be the third plan so far: Russia has spent nearly $40 billion on emergency support – far too little, critics say, pointing to its healthy hard currency reserves, worth $563 billion.


There has also been growing criticism of an aid bias towards large businesses, leaving cash-strapped small enterprises failing and economists warning unemployment will rise from 3.5 million in 2019 to 9 million. Hospitals are overflowing and medical equipment is in desperately short supply. Putin, for his part, has delivered mixed messages. On April 14th he admitted that Russia was having “a lot of problems” but five days later said that everything was “under full control”. Far from it, it would seem.