Putin Ends Russian Virus Lockdown, Urges Caution on Easing

(Bloomberg) --

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 period of non-working days for all of Russia and all economic sectors comes to an end,” Putin said in an address to the nation Monday. “But the fight with epidemic isn’t over. The danger remains, even in those territories where the situation is relatively favorable.”

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.

Putin gave region leaders the right to enforce sanitary measures to avoid new outbreaks, saying public health officials should have the final word on when to lift restrictions. At the same time, he calling on the regions to support businesses and employment.

“It’s dangerous to rush forward recklessly, but it’s impossible to sit idly, avoiding responsibility,” the Russian president said. “We’ve got to pass between Scylla and Charybdis.”

Record Infections

Despite Putin’s stay-at-home order for businesses deemed non-essential, Russia has surpassing Italy and France to rank fourth-highest in the world by number of infections. It added a record 11,656 new diagnoses for a total of 221,344. At the same time, it has one of the world’s lowest mortality rates with Covid-19 listed as the cause of death in only 2,009 cases, leading critics to claim that the government is withholding data.

Along with the push for regional economies, Putin pledged to expand payouts for families, offered support for small and medium-sized businesses that maintain employment and proposed a series of breaks. Small-business groups had complained that earlier measures were insufficient.

Earlier, Putin ordered the government and central bank to develop plans this month to revive the economy, create jobs and stimulate lending, according to orders published on the Kremlin website.

Last week, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who has helped lead the country’s coronavirus response, 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 wouldn’t return to normal life anytime soon.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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