Russia’s prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, the official leading the Kremlin’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, is stepping down temporarily after himself contracting the disease.
“The tests I submitted for coronavirus came back positive,” Mr.Mishustin said in a televised video conference call with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.
Mr.Mishustin, who showed no apparent symptoms of the coronavirus during the call, said he would self-isolate and remain “inactive contact” with the cabinet and Mr.Putin during his illness.
Andrei Belousov, Mr.Mishustin’s senior deputy, will become acting prime minister in his absence.
“What is happening to you now could happen to anyone,” Mr.Putin said, adding that he hoped Mr.Mishustin would remain involved in creating Russia’s support packages for people and industries hit by the pandemic.
“We won’t make any final decisions without your opinion,”
“Call me as soon as you get to the hospital. I’ll be waiting for your call.”
Mr.Mishustin’s diagnosis is the latest twist in a bumpy tenure since Mr.Putin plucked him from relative obscurity in January to lead a shake-up that could see him remain president until 2036.
A former senior tax official, Mr.Mishustin, 54, was initially charged with overseeing an infrastructure and social spending program aimed at boosting flagging economic growth.
Instead, he has devoted most of his time to trying to stop the spread of the disease while alleviating the economic damage from the pandemic and a concurrent oil price war.
Mr.Mishustin’s decision to shut Russia’s land border of more than 4,000km with China in January and suspend travel from the country may have helped cases remain low for the first two months of the pandemic.
But once the disease began to spread, Mr.Mishustin found himself eclipsed by Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who told Mr.Putin that official figures showing low numbers of infections underestimated the true scale of the outbreak and publicly pushed for tough quarantine measures.
CORONA in Russia
Confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus, rose by a record 7,099 on Thursday, taking Russia’s total to 106,000, with 1,073 deaths.
Moscow’s share of the total has decreased from 80 percent in the early days of the outbreak to about 50 percent, meaning the disease is spreading in
Russian regions, where the health infrastructure lags far behind that of the capital.
Mr.Sobyanin said before Mr.Mishustin’s announcement on Thursday that Moscow was “at best a quarter of the way through” the pandemic, but claimed the disease had peaked.
More than half of Moscow’s hospital beds are taken up by Covid-19 patients, Mr.Sobyanin added.
In late March, Russia introduced “non-working days” that bar most people from leaving their homes in nearly all circumstances and close all but essential businesses.
Mr.Putin extended Russia’s strict lockdown measures on Wednesday until the end of a lengthy holiday period on May 11.
Russia may then begin easing some of the restrictions but will probably do so gradually and at different paces in different regions.
“Under the current circumstances, I want to ask all our citizens to take the coronavirus infection and its spread as seriously as possible,” Mr.Mishustin said.
“Please remember that the date when the country can return to normal life depends on the discipline and will of all of us.”