Daily Outlook

Coronavirus is a ‘challenge’ for Putin and ‘huge danger’ for the world, Kremlin warns

Russia and its leader President Vladimir Putin are facing an unprecedented challenge as the coronavirus outbreak accelerates in the country, the Kremlin’s spokesman told CNBC. “It’s a huge challenge and a huge danger for every nation in the world. It’s not only about Putin or about Russia, every country is facing this challenge and it’s quite unprecedented, we have never faced it before,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told CNBC Tuesday.

He noted that it was the first major international pandemic situation that anyone — including Putin — had faced. “For him it’s a challenge because we know that besides the danger for human life and health, this pandemic crisis will open the gates for a huge economic crisis in the world and this will be another challenge,” Peskov added.

The coronavirus spread from China to Europe in early 2020, but appears to have taken longer to take hold in Russia. Putin addressed the nation on March 25, telling them that the country could no longer “insulate itself” from the threat of the coronavirus, nor stop it from “spilling over” into the country from its neighbors. He also canceled a referendum on constitutional changes that could allow him to serve further terms in office, and declared a “non-working week,” which has since been extended to the end of April, to try to delay the spread of the virus. The Russian capital Moscow and major city St Petersburg went into lockdown, as did other parts of the country.

But the number of confirmed cases of the virus is accelerating rapidly in Russia. On Sunday, the country of around 146 million people saw its largest daily rise in new confirmed cases, with over 6,060. Then on Monday, it reported 4,268 cases, prompting hopes of a slowdown, before the figures surged again on Tuesday, with a rise of 5,642 cases, according to data from Russia’s crisis response center. 

Russia confirmed 5,236 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the country’s official tally to 57,999. Nonetheless, the death toll remains strikingly low, with 513 people having died so far.

Some analysts have told CNBC that Russia was slow to respond to the crisis and that it’s uncertain how its health-care system, which one expert described as “ailing,” will manage. But Putin’s spokesman defended Russia’s approach to the outbreak, saying that it had already started to check hospital capacity and equipment after the outbreak in China at the beginning of the year.

Russia will have to look closer to home to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus, with the country’s central bank already signaling that it could cut its key interest rate to protect the economy. Nonetheless, it has predicted that the economy is likely to contract in 2020 given the dual impact of the coronavirus and the slump in oil prices, which Russia, as a major oil producer and exporter, relies on.

Asked whether the country’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak, as yet impossible to evaluate fully, could potentially damage Putin’s popularity ratings (which stood at 63% in March, according to the independent pollster the Levada Center, having fallen from the high 80s in 2015) Peskov insisted it was not at the forefront of the president’s mind.

Coronavirus is a ‘challenge’ for Putin and ‘huge danger’ for the world, Kremlin warns, CNBC, Apr 22

 

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