Putin ends Russian virus lockdown, urges caution on easing

Ilya Arkhipov

Russian President Vladimir Putin ended his national stay-at-home restrictions against the coronavirus after six weeks, while putting responsibility for easing the measures on regional leaders, even as the number of infections in Russia surges past most European countries.

“The non-working period for all of Russia and all economic sectors is coming to an end,” Putin said in an address to the nation Monday. Still, he said, “the exit from restrictions will not be quick, it will take considerable time. Starting from May 12, it will be necessary to maintain both general sanitary requirements and additional preventive measures in the regions.”

Grave diggers wearing protective suits bury a COVID-19 victim as relatives and friends stand at a safe distance, in the special purpose for coronavirus victims section of a cemetery in Kolpino, outside St.Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, May 10, 2020.

Russia is contending with the fallout of both coronavirus-related shutdowns and the epidemic’s impact on demand for oil, the country’s most important export. Economic activity has contracted by a third since the lockdown began, while the benchmark Brent crude traded at the lowest in nearly two decades.

As the crisis batters living standards and threatens a surge in unemployment, Putin’s approval rating has fallen to the lowest since he came to power more than 20 years ago, an opinion poll showed on May 6.

Record Infections

Despite Putin’s stay-at-home order for businesses deemed non-essential, Russia has among the highest number of infections in the world. It added a record 11,656 new diagnoses for a total of 221,344, surpassing Italy, France and the U.K. before their updated counts Monday. Almost half of all cases are asymptomatic, according to the government’s virus response center.

Putin told the government to prepare recommendations for how and when regions should ease restrictions and called for plans by June 1 to revive the economy, create jobs and stimulate lending, according to orders published on the Kremlin website. Last week, Putin backed the right of regional leaders to ease restrictive measures but urged caution to avoid new outbreaks.

Russia has one of the world’s lowest mortality rates from Covid-19 with the virus listed as the cause of death in only 2,009 cases, leading critics to claim that the government is withholding data.

Last week, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin extended many lockdown measures to May 31, ordering people to wear masks and gloves in public from Tuesday, while allowing construction and industrial companies to resume work.

He estimated that around 300,000 people in the capital have coronavirus, or more than three times the official number, and warned that the city won’t return to normal life anytime soon.