In First Address to Nation on the Coronavirus, Putin Holds Back From Stringent Measures

The Russian leader also delayed a vote on constitutional changes that could see him remain in power until 2036.

By Evan Gershkovich and Jake Cordell2 hours ago

The address comes a day after Putin discussed the health crisis with top officials and visited a Moscow hospital treating coronavirus patients.Alexei Druzhinin / TASS

Casually reclining in front of an office desk, President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation on the coronavirus pandemic for the first time on Wednesday afternoon — a month after Russia announced its first case.

The Russian leader kicked off the speech by postponing a planned April 22 vote on constitutional changes that could see him remain in the Kremlin until 2036. He did not announce a new date for the vote. 

Then he declared a week-long paid national holiday from March 30 — the purpose of which, he said, was to encourage people to remain at home in an effort to limit the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

“Don’t think: ‘This can’t happen to me.’ It can happen to anyone,” Putin said. “The most important thing is to stay home.”

But Putin, to the shock of many observers, did not enforce additional measures that would ensure that Russians remain at home — a step that epidemiologists argue is essential for limiting person-to-person transmission of the highly contagious virus.

“People need to be separated at the very least — and I will underscore that this is at the very least — for two weeks,” Vasily Vlasov, an epidemiologist at the Higher School of Economics, told The Moscow Times. “And to ensure that this happens, measures need to be put in place that will actually keep them at home.”

As the coronavirus pandemic has spread across the globe, devastating nations from Iran to Italy to the United States, Russia has so far remained largely untouched, according to official statistics. The country has so far only reported 648 official cases of the virus and only three deaths. Last week, Putin said that the situation is “under control.” 

But in recent days, the official narrative around the danger of the virus to Russia has begun to change. 

On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who is heading Putin’s coronavirus taskforce, told the president that the official figures were likely underestimating the spread of the disease and warned that the country faces a “serious situation.” To underline Sobyanin’s point, the number of new cases tripled overnight. 

Beyond the shifting rhetoric, Russian authorities have also in recent days instituted a host of measures aimed at slowing the spread of the disease. 

They have closed all sporting and cultural events and businesses like nightclubs and cinemas and most large gatherings. From Thursday, Moscow residents aged 65 and older will be ordered to self-isolate at home.

In his speech Wednesday, Putin said that only key businesses like banks, pharmacies and supermarkets would be allowed to stay openduring the week-long holiday.

But the measures have come piecemeal and are still lagging behind most of the world, said Vasov. 

He pointed to a move by Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi on Tuesday to lock India down for three weeks, and Israel’s policy of not allowing its citizens to go beyond 100 meters from their homes unless they are visiting an essential shop like a pharmacy or a supermarket.

“The Russian authorities are heading in the right direction,” Vasov said. “But unfortunately it’s all being rolled out very poorly and so the measures will most likely be ineffective.”

Populist measures

Putin spent the rest of his speech Tuesday unveiling a package of measures to support the Russian economy and businesses suffering from the double blow of the coronavirus and sinking oil prices after Russia pulled out of a deal with Saudi Arabia limiting energy production earlier this month.

He announced that families will receive an extra 5,000 rubles ($44.80) per child, per month from the government. Small and midsized businesses will receive a six-month tax deferral. And those who lose their jobs or take sick leave will receive payments of the minimum wage or above until the end of the year.

But despite grim economic warnings — the Kremlin’s own modelling suggests the Russian economy could shrink by as much as 10% this year in a worst-case scenario — Putin held back from adopting more radical measures to support the economy. 

“The measures are really quite muted,” said Sofya Donets of Renaissance Capital. “It’s not a large amount of additional money, and the measures aren’t widespread — they are very concentrated on socially sensitive clusters, like pensioners and families with children.”

Other tinkering measures included making banks offer repayment vacations on consumer loans and mortgages if a borrower’s income drops significantly, while small businesses will get a six-month deferral on some of their tax bills and no-penalty extensions to their loans.

The Russian president also said that all interest and dividend payments leaving Russia will incur a 15% tax — up from the current 2%.

Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the political analysis project R.Politik, said that the form and substance of Putin’s address stayed true to his history as a populist leader.

“In Russia, the authorities have always been scared to look weak and to instill panic in society,” she said. “They are trying to inspire confidence in the people and to make it look like the situation is under control.” 

But as Vasov noted, the spread of the disease in Russia may only be in its early stages.

“Either the pandemic is just starting here or it’s moving through the population in a mild form,” he said. “The second version is less likely. Which means that we have to prepare for an outbreak.”

(C)MOSCOW TIMES 2020

20 comments

  • Measures in most countries are ineffective, because public transport is still rolling…

    Liked by 6 people

    • Here in Sweden schools and restaurants are open so far, the opposite of the practice in Norway and Denmark.

      Liked by 6 people

      • Your government hates Swedes it appears. Why don’t you return to Norge? Sweden is for the ass, at least until a true government emerges, which loves the people.

        Liked by 6 people

        • onlyfactsplease

          You mean “loves the Swedish people and not third-world parasites”, right? If so, I fully agree.

          Liked by 5 people

          • Sweden has always been a country populated by large groups of immigrants, people from Norway (1940-), Finland, Hungary (1956-), earlier Yugoslavia (1991-). Now it’s new war-zones and Sweden take their shares of all refugees. What is the alternative, let them die? If you don’t have any reason to stay here, you are returned! I really hate to read when you and others here characterize desperate people as parasites, for me all people, regardless of religion or color of their skin, has the same value.

            Liked by 3 people

            • I did think the same way. But concerning muslims, it is different. These people, at least most of them, are not refugees – but invaders. They exploit our liberal democracies for their advantage. Not all muslims are evil, in particular women, but too many are.

              Liked by 3 people

              • I accept different views, what I don’t accept is calling people for parasites. I talk with muslims here every day as some are living here. I try to meet all people the same way. I’m not afraid that they are making bombs in their apartments only because they have another religion 🙂

                Liked by 2 people

            • onlyfactsplease

              Most of your so-called refugees are no refugees at all. People who flee only from poverty have no right to be called refugees. And, those other immigrants that you mentioned … Norwegians, Finns and even Hungarians and Yugoslavians are not in the least comparable to Arabs, Africans and Turks. How many no-go zones, rapes and slums are people like you willing to accept before you will wake up to reality? Those few who have integrated well into the host society do not make for a successful concept.
              I am sick and tired of all these nations and ethnic groups not getting their shit together, killing each other for ethnic, religious or other stupid causes, for not building their countries to be successful entities and instead “flee” to other countries. Of course, it’s easier that way, and of course, they prefer European countries, where money, tolerance and easy women abound. Then, as a special thank you to their hosts, they turn to crime and claim whole city quarters as their own. Ask yourself why filthy rich Saudi Arabia or the other Gulf nations take virtually ZERO “refugees”? What about those countries where these people “fled” from? Don’t you think that it’s about time for these people to finally get off their lazy asses to return and build nations to make them worth the nomenclature?
              Until this day comes to pass, Knut, yes, to me they are parasites.

              Liked by 3 people

              • I think it’s ironic that descendants of immigrants who came to the United States for a better life are now raising the ladder for others who want the same, and even calling them parasites!

                Like

                • Prince William of Orange

                  I am with you, as in most cases.

                  I would rather not have refugees here, but in Syria there is no normal life possible.

                  I must say my experience with Syrians so far are very good. A few Syrian young men and a few women have been placed in the building I live.

                  There have been zero incidents, and they were so much Muslim that they were drinking beer at a drink I have organised for the neighbourhood, and afterwards they asked me if we can have a drink again.

                  Of course they aren’t all so much Westernised, and I do not expect all to drink beer, but calling them parasites or wishing them to have stayed in Syria to be bombed by Russian airstrikes, would mean you are basically insulting my neighbours in a very nasty way.

                  Of course no other Arab states (except for Libanon, they have millions of Syrian refugees) want to take Syrians: they are all terrorist regimes, and a human life is worth nothing in those countries.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • onlyfactsplease

                  Same old lame argument, Knut that every liberal attempts. Guess what, it’s a different world now. There is a limitation to the number of people any nation can withstand before it succumbs to the hordes that it lets in. People like you are always so welcoming and open to ever more “refugees” which in reality are immigrants … as long as everyone pays for this concept. If only you and others like you had to finance this madness, guess how much longer this tolerance would last?
                  BTW.
                  par·a·site (păr′ə-sīt′)
                  n.
                  1. Biology An organism that lives and feeds on or in an organism of a different species and causes harm to its host.
                  2.
                  a. One who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without making any useful return.
                  b. One who lives off and flatters the rich; a sycophant.
                  3. A professional dinner guest, especially in ancient Greece.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • In the UK, a leftist organisation commissioned some research about the UK’s muzloid population. The research found that 50% of muzloid males did not work and 75% of their women did not work. They published this info intending to accuse the authorities of discrimination, but since no other immigrant community in Britain has such stark figures, they actually managed to prove what they are : parasites. I would not mind betting that the figures will be remarkably similar in other countries that offer full welfare support to immigrants from primitive and savage cultures.

                    Like

              • Well put, Facts. 👍

                Liked by 2 people

        • Alina isn’t allowed to cross the border to Norway, but I feel safe here with only one infected so far. We stay at home, walk out in the forest and only visit the food store for what we need to buy.

          Liked by 3 people

      • 18 døde med coronavirus på et døgn i Stockholm. 😥

        Liked by 2 people

        • Det er det området som er hardest rammet. Her er det bare ett tilfelle av smitte så langt, la oss håpe det varer. Vi var en tur i Ørebro i dag da Alina måtte ha nye identitetspapirer pga permanent opphold, og hun hadde panikk for å bli smittet 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

    • Prince William of Orange

      That is true, but (apart from the Tube) most trains and busses are near completely empty. I think if you stop them, other problems will arise: staff of essential services also need to go to their work, and not everyone has a car.

      Also: some people bring food to their friends and family: they are really dependent on public transport.

      I do think we should restrict access and for example, forbid everyone to use public transport that is not doing something essential. Why are there still trams going to the beach for example?

      Liked by 4 people

  • onlyfactsplease

    “But Putin, to the shock of many observers, did not enforce additional measures that would ensure that Russians remain at home”
    Isn’t this an indication that this dwarf doesn’t give a crap for his own people? That’s the only conclusion one can arrive at when one sees what havoc the virus is causing in certain countries.

    Liked by 5 people

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