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Putin dons hazmat suit as Moscow says coronavirus outbreak is worse than it looks

Published Mar 24, 2020

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MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin donned

a hazmat suit and respirator on Tuesday during a visit to a

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hospital treating coronavirus patients and the mayor of Moscow

said the outbreak in the Russian capital was much worse than

official figures showed.

The comments, by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, marked the

strongest statement yet by Russian authorities suggesting they

do not have a full grasp of how widely the coronavirus has

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spread throughout the world's largest country by territory.

Russia has so far reported 495 cases of the virus, a figure

that is much lower than in many European countries. One woman,

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who tested positive for the virus, has also died.

Putin has previously said the situation is under control,

but some doctors have questioned how far official data reflects

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reality, a point taken up by Sobyanin, a close Putin ally, on

Tuesday.

"A serious situation is unfolding," Sobyanin told Putin at a

meeting, saying the real number of cases was unclear but that

they were increasing quickly.

Testing for the virus was at a low level, he said, and many

people in the capital were self-isolating at their apartments or

at homes in the countryside and not being tested after returning

from trips abroad.

"...In reality there are significantly more of those who are

sick," Sobyanin said.

Putin on Tuesday donned a bright yellow full-body protective

suit and respirator as he visited a hospital on the outskirts of

Moscow that is treating coronavirus patients.

The Russian leader used the visit to praise doctors for

their work, saying he had been impressed by what he had seen.

Separately, two senior lawmakers, including Vyacheslav

Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, on

Tuesday proposed legislation that would make it an offence

punishable by jail time to violate quarantine measures imposed

to limit the virus's spread.

Under their proposals, people who flout mandatory quarantine

could be jailed for up to seven years if their actions led to

the death of two or more people, or for up to three years if it

led to mass infection, the RIA news agency reported.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, a senior lawmaker, said the

legislation could be adopted by the lower house of parliament as

soon as next week, RIA reported. - Additional reporting by Polina Devitt

Reuters

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