Is Vladimir Putin rushing Russia out of coronavirus lockdown?

Russia Putin
It seems Vladimir Putin is rushing to reopen the country. Source: AP
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Daily US Times: Russia is passing an intense time due to coronavirus as the country is observing a sharp rise in infections. It seems President Vladimir Putin has run out of patience with the coronavirus.

Mr Putin has sent millions of workers back to building sites and factories on Monday and declared six weeks of full lockdown was over.

Regional leaders have been left to manage exactly when and how they lift the remaining restrictions, with the infection rate is still high, especially in the capital Moscow.

But the situation was different only some days ago. By Thursday, Russian President was telling his government that life was “resuming its normal, familiar rhythm” and urging them to refocus on non-coronavirus priorities.

The message from the top is clear: Vladimir Putin wants to move on.

Why the rush?

Chatham House political analyst Nikolai Petrov says: “I think for the first time in his active political life, Putin is faced by a problem which is absolutely not under his control and which broke all of his plans.”

Denis Protsenko fell ill with Covid-19 a week after giving a tour to the president – here out of his hazmat suit. Source: Getty Images

Mr Putin will face a public vote in this spring on reforming the constitution, allowing him to rule for another two terms. Instead, the 67-year-old Russian leader ended up retreating to his residence outside Moscow, after an attempt to keep up his action-man image by visiting a coronavirus-hospital in full hazmat suit became a close-scrape with infection.

The doctor who showed him round later tested positive for the coronavirus.

Tucked away in self-isolation, the hands-on president has been president to conduct business meetings via video conferences on giant screen.

His approval rating is 59% now, which has slid to an all-time low and his tetchiness, even boredom is clearly visible during the long calls.

“Putin’s eager to finish his plans,” Nikolai Petrov argues, indicating the constitutional reform vote. The advertisement for the vote is still widely broadcast on state TV and giant city billboards.

“Putin’s eager to finish his plans,” Nikolai Petrov argues, meaning the constitutional reform vote that is still widely advertised on state TV and giant city billboards.

So is Covid-19 really defeated?

Russia recorded its biggest spike in new coronavirus cases the day Vladimir Putin announced a formal end to lockdown.

Since then, official numbers have fallen slightly each day, but the total number of active infections is now over 250,000, placing Russia near the very top of worldwide ratings.

Russian politicians have preferred to highlight another statistic: a mortality rate below 1%. Russia had reported 2,212 coronavirus deaths so far.

Mr Putin has had to get used to video conferencing and sometimes get bored of long meeting. Source: Reuters

Speaker of Parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, gloated on Wednesday, “This shows that the quality of our healthcare is much better than in the USA.”

He said to a smattering of applause from MPs mostly in facemasks: “We must give thanks to our doctors and our president, who works day and night to save lives.”

The low mortality has raised questions and there are suggestions that Russia is actively under-reporting fatalities. But the government officials angrily denied this week as “fake news”.

However, figures for the overall death rate in Moscow in April do suggest an excess mortality of up to three times the official Covid-19 death figure, calculated against an average rate over the past five years.

Excess mortality is considered a better measure of Covid-19 deaths, as it includes people who died outside of hospital and may not have been tested.

Dmitry Peskov was admitted to hospital this week. Source: Getty Images

Moscow’s tally in April shows at around 1,700 excess deaths, but that is still considerably lower than many places – including London.

The Moscow Health Department has since clarified that up to 60% of suspected coronavirus cases actually died of other causes, like heart attacks or strokes, a fact established during post-mortem examination.

It denies any cover-up.

What lessons have been learned?

Russia comparatively did have more time to prepare for the coronavirus. Widespread testing, now over 40,000 a day in Moscow, earlier hospital treatment and early detection may be helping the country avoid the distressing scenes of overloaded morgues and mass graves that played out in parts of Europe, though the epidemic here is far from contained yet.

Last month ambulances had to queue at the entrance to a medical clinic in Moscow. Source: Getty Images

There may also be cultural differences. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson coughed his way through remote meetings with a raging temperature only to end up in intensive care, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman battled his own fever for three days before being admitted to hospital with double pneumonia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov describes falling ill despite extreme precautions at work, where Kremlin staff even disinfect paperwork before passing it on.

He said he had not been in direct contact with Mr Putin for over a month.

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