Russia is now reporting more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other country except the U.S. after a surge in cases vaulted it past both Spain and the U.K. In another new development, President Vladimir Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, has confirmed he's being treated for COVID-19.
"Yes, I have fallen ill," Peskov told state-run Tass media. "I am receiving treatment."
He added that the last time he saw Russian President Vladimir Putin in person was more than a month ago. Peskov's wife, Tatyana Navka, said via Instagram that she was also sick and that she and Peskov were hospitalized after the first symptoms were detected to protect their relatives from infection.
Navka added that while her case is already easing, her husband's condition is more complicated. She did not elaborate.
Peskov is the latest high-ranking member of Putin's government to test positive for COVID-19. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin revealed his COVID-19 diagnosis less than two weeks ago. The heads of Russia's construction and culture ministries have also tested positive, as The Moscow Times notes.
When Mishustin disclosed his diagnosis on April 30, Russia was just crossing the 100,000-case mark. The number of cases are now more than double that amount with 232,243 cases as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
News about Peskov's condition and a spike in coronavirus cases comes one day after Putin led a high-profile discussion about how Russia might be able to begin emerging from a broad economic shutdown that began on March 30.
For more than six weeks, the country was in a mandatory "non-work period" in which Putin decreed workers would still get their normal wages. But that ended on Monday.
"Critics say authorities are putting lives at risk by opening too soon. They also question numbers put forth by a government task force that insists Russia's mortality rate from COVID-19 remains far lower than global averages — at under 1% with just over 2,000 lives lost," Charles Maynes reports from Moscow for NPR's Newscast unit.
At Monday's meeting, Putin said he wants his Cabinet to look for ways to help operations resume in "backbone industries" such as construction, manufacturing, agriculture, communications and energy. But he added that every Russian region should make its own decisions on loosening restrictions based on advice from medical experts, conditions in their area and the ability to ensure sanitary and safe conditions as people get back to work.
"Jumping ahead too soon would be reckless and dangerous. At the same time, sitting idly and evading responsibility is not an option," Putin said.
"It is a question of choosing between Scylla and Charybdis," the president added, illustrating the tricky task of balancing the competing needs for economic activity and personal safety by evoking the fearsome monsters from Greek mythology that occupied opposite sides of the Strait of Messina.
"I ask you to take this as seriously as possible," Putin told his ministers.