MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin donned
a hazmat suit and respirator on Tuesday during a visit to a
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
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,
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
reality, a point taken up by Sobyanin, a close Putin ally, on
"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