Moscow – Russia is closing restaurants nationwide for a nine-day period starting on Saturday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as the reported number of cases in the country surpassed 1,000.
The reported coronavirus cases, including at least three deaths, have been predominantly in Moscow, the country’s capital and largest city.
Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has warned that the actual number of cases is probably significantly more.
Russia has prohibited regular international flights and imposed strict quarantine measures for anyone entering the country and anyone who could have been exposed to someone infected with the virus.
The government has opted not to impose lockdown measures such as those seen in neighbouring China and some European countries, including Italy, Spain and France.
Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, assured the public on Thursday that Russia does not have a coronavirus epidemic.
“We still need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario,’’ he told reporters.
Peskov said on Friday that a coronavirus case had been confirmed in Putin’s administration. He said the person, whom he did not identify, had not had direct contact with the president.
Denis Protsenko, a doctor heading the treatment of coronavirus patients at a Moscow hospital, believes that Russia will have a better understanding of the impact of the disease in the country next week.
Protsenko met with Putin earlier this week at the Kommunarka hospital, where the Russian leader donned a hazmat suit and observed the treatment of coronavirus patients.
While other world leaders have gone into isolation due to concerns about having been exposed to the virus, Putin has cultivated the image that he is at the forefront of the country’s fight against the pandemic.
Russia closed its border with neighbouring China, where the disease originated, early on in January when the epidemic was beginning to emerge.
Russian officials have touted that response, as well as the quarantining of incomers into the country, saying they have thwarted a greater spread of the virus than has been experienced by other countries.
Concerns among the general populace escalated this week as Putin indefinitely postponed a nationwide referendum that had been scheduled for next month to decide whether he can run for re-election.
Putin, 67, has been in power as president or prime minister for two decades.
He is the longest serving Russian or Soviet leader since Joseph Stalin.
The referendum, on sweeping changes to the constitution, including to bolster the power of the government’s legislative branch, dominated by politicians loyal to Putin, had been promoted for months by Russia’s leadership.
Meanwhile, the first deaths associated with the new coronavirus in the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Uzbekistan have been reported. Both were elderly patients with prior health problems.
Many countries across the former Soviet Union have had relatively few official cases of the new coronavirus, likely due to a lack of testing.