Unprecedented Shutdown Begins in Russia but Kremlin Sees No Epidemic

A “non-working week” began in Russia on Saturday in a move aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, Interfax reported.

All restaurants, bars, motels, children’s camps and ski resorts will be closed as early as March 28, and regional authorities have been advised to ban all public events and close movie theaters. Officials now hint the new restrictions could be extended beyond 5 April, depending on the health situation.

The government is urging people to stay at home, though mixed messaging has left many Russians confused.

The number of Russians infected with Covid-19 passed 1,000 on Friday, with most cases detected in Moscow. Based on that figure, the Kremlin spokesman stressed that there is “de facto no epidemic” here, comparing Russia’s position favorably with the crisis in Europe.

President Putin delivered a national address March 25, in which he said it was “impossible to stop” the virus spreading in the country. At a meeting with entrepreneurs a day later, however, he said Russia could defeat coronavirus in less than three months if it imposed tough measures quickly.

And whilst state TV’s rolling news channel has changed its name to We’re Staying Home – broadcasting from presenters’ living rooms – many people are struggling to adjust after its previous insistence that Covid-19 was a “foreign threat”.

Later on Friday, the Kremlin said a member of President Putin’s administration had not been in direct contact with Russia’s leader, has been infected with the coronavirus, Reuters reported.

“Indeed, a coronavirus case has been identified in the presidential administration,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying.

“All necessary sanitary and epidemiological measures are being taken to prevent the virus from spreading further. The sick man did not come into contact with the president,” he added, saying this was the only known case at the Kremlin.

Moscow mayor Sobyanin, who heads Russia’s official coronavirus response body, told Putin this week that the real number of those who are sick is “significantly higher” than official numbers indicate.

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