Russia began to slightly ease its nationwide lockdown on Tuesday even as its number of coronavirus cases continued to grow, with the country overtaking Spain to become the second largest epidemic in the world behind only the United States.
Russia’s health ministry said the country now has 232,243 confirmed cases, following a week where it had been registering more than 10,000 new cases a day.
After initially being slow to react to the threat of coronavirus, as the pandemic gripped China to its south and Europe to its west, Russia saw its highest daily rise in infections yesterday with 11,000 new cases.
China blamed an April outbreak of almost 400 cases in the northern border city of Suifenhe on its citizens crossing the frontier from Russia.
Five senior Kremlin officials have now contracted the virus including President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Mr Putin has largely been confined to his residence since April. The Kremlin has said the leader’s health is rigorously protected and he hasn’t seen Mr Peskov in person for more than a month.
A fire in a hospital in St Petersburg, Russia’s second city, has raised questions about the country’s response to COVID-19.
Five patients with coronavirus were killed in the blaze which occurred in an intensive care unit.
According to initial findings, the fire may have been caused by a short circuit in a ventilator or its malfunction, state news agencies said. All the victims were said to be using the machines and likely suffocated from the fumes.
In a surprise announcement on Monday, Mr Putin said it was time after six weeks to gradually lift nationwide restrictions that had forced many people to work from home and businesses to temporarily close.
Although he gave broad leeway to Russia’s regions to ease or tighten restrictions as they saw fit, he said it made sense for certain sectors of the bruised economy, such as construction and heavy industry, to be allowed to restart work from Tuesday.