Russia now has 242,271 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker – the highest caseload in the world after the United States. On May 12, health authorities reported 10,899 new cases in the last 24 hours, the 10th consecutive day that new cases were over 10,000.
Despite the surge in new cases, Russian President Vladimir Putin has lifted the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, allowing businesses to resume operations this week. The move will affect all sectors of the economy, but Putin said that some regions could maintain current restrictions if necessary.
The country’s official death toll stands at 2,212, which the government says is the result of its mass wide testing program. However, many believe that the actual deaths are much higher.
Among those infected by the coronavirus is Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov.
“Yes, I have fallen ill,” he told state-run Tass media. “I am receiving treatment.”
The spokesman is the latest high-profile to test positive; Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is still being treated after testing positive for the coronavirus late April. A report by the Moscow Times also notes that the coronavirus has also infected the heads of Russia’s construction and culture ministries.
In an Instagram post, Peskov’s wife, Tatayana Navka, said that she was also diagnosed with COVID-19. While Navka said that her symptoms are already easing, her husband’s condition is “more complicated.”
According to Peskov, the last time that he met Putin in person was more than a month ago. Currently, the Russian president is working remotely from his residence outside the capital, and the Kremlin reports that his health is well-protected.
Putin announced the end of the “non-working days” which ran for six weeks on May 11. In a televised announcement, the president warned residents of the deadly contagion, but he also stressed the need for all sectors of the economy to reopen.
“Jumping ahead too soon would be reckless and dangerous. At the same time, sitting idly and evading responsibility is not an option,” he added.
In a high-profile meeting, Putin tasked his cabinet to look into possible ways for so-called “backbone industries” – construction, manufacturing, agriculture, communications and energy – to resume operations. He added that oblast governments should still make their own decisions on relaxing restrictions based on conditions in their area and advice from medical experts.
“It is a question of choosing between Scylla and Charybdis,” the president said. “I ask you to take this as seriously as possible.”
Moscow remains to be the country’s coronavirus epicenter, with over 126,000 cases and more than 1,200 deaths as of May 13.
Last week, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin extended the capital’s lockdown until May 31. While construction and industrial workers who were marooned in other areas can now return to work, everyone must wear face masks and gloves when shopping or riding public transport. (Related: Russian medical students forced to work in coronavirus wards or face expulsion.)
Nikolai Briko, the Ministry of Health’s chief epidemiologist, warned against expecting “prompt improvement” in the country’s coronavirus response, saying that infection stabilization and decline will last longer than the upswing in cases.
“I would like to point out that the phase of stabilization and further decline will last longer than growth. That’s what the history of all epidemics shows,” he told state news channel Rossiya-24. “The downtrend will be slow.”
He also said that social distancing – in particular, isolation and restriction – is still Russia’s best chance of controlling the virus.
Learn more about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic at Pandemic.news.
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