In First Address to Nation on the Coronavirus, Putin Postponed the Vote
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.
Official figures were likely underestimating the spread of the disease
“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.”
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, 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 open during the week-long holiday, The Moscow Times reported.
But the measures have come piecemeal and are still lagging behind most of the world, said Vlasov.