The Russian president made the announcement in a televised address, his second in eight days, as the government introduces additional measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
President Vladimir Putin thanked doctors, volunteers and ordinary Russians for their efforts to battle and contain COVID-19, but stressed that Russia isn’t in the clear yet.
“Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel are working hard, and they do not have it easy now. They are our frontline defenders, protecting us in hospitals and infectious wards from the advancing pandemic. They are treating and saving people,” Putin said in an address to the nation on Thursday.
Putin said that the measures taken so far have helped to slow COVID-19’s spread, with the week-long paid holiday and self-isolation measures in place giving doctors and authorities valuable time to mobilize resources. This period off work for non-essential services will therefore be extended until the end of the month, unless the situation allows for it to be reduced as necessary.
It’s Not Over Yet
Putin noted that some regions, including Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s COVID-19 outbreak, have failed, for the moment, to curb the spread of the virus, “despite the measures taken by the federal and city authorities.” Earlier, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin instituted a strict lockdown, with plans to enforce it using electronic tools and city cameras.
On Thursday, Moscow authorities announced that all shops excepting grocery stores, pharmacies and pet stores would remain closed until May 1.
Russia’s COVID-19 infection rate jumped this week from hundreds of cases to over 3,500, including 30 coronavirus-related fatalities. 235 people have recovered to date.
“The threat remains, and experts believe that the epidemic has yet to reach its peak in the world, including our country,” Putin said.
Accordingly, the president asked Russians to “continue to pay the utmost attention to government orders and the recommendations of doctors and specialists, to protect yourselves and your loved ones. Our common responsibility and mutual support have been and remain extremely important, sometimes decisively so,” the president added.
Expanded Powers to Regional Authorities
Pointing to the need for a ‘differentiated approach’ to coronavirus-related restrictions on freedom of movement, quarantine and the operation of businesses, Putin noted that the powers of regional authorities would be expanded under presidential decree to account for local needs and circumstances.
Putin instructed authorities to tighten measures as necessary on restricting the movement of vehicles, excepting inter-regional cargo transportation. In the event that additional restrictions are needed for systemically important enterprises, as well as educational and scientific institutions, regions will be required to coordinate these measures with federal authorities.
Putin also noted that on the economic front, employment and income should be prioritized to ensure that people have enough resources to get through the crisis. “In implementing measures to combat the pandemic, we must not forget that it is just as important at this moment to preserve jobs and incomes. This is the common priority of the government, of regions and business,” he said. Accordingly, Putin has left it up to regional authorities to determine which economic sectors can continue to work as normal.
Following the address, Putin signed a decree on additional measures to combat COVID-19’s spread, including the new restrictions and the extension of paid leave for eligible workers.
Russia has joined countries around the world in introducing a series of medical and economic measures to stop COVID-19’s spread and limit its economic fallout, among them mandatory quarantine and/or hospitalization for those with signs of the virus, restrictions on movement, and the creation of medical equipment and medications which could potentially treat the disease.
Last week, Dr. Nikolai Malyshev, one of Russia’s most respected infectious disease specialists, warned that Russia mustn’t let down its guard amid the pandemic, saying the country may still face an “explosive development [of COVID-19] like a nuclear reaction,” owing to its geometric rate of spread.