Putin extends Russia's non-working period until April 30 over coronavirus

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Thursday prolonged until April 30 a paid non-working period across Russia, stepping up measures to stem the spread of coronavirus just a week after the Kremlin said there was no epidemic.

Russia, which has reported 3,548 cases and 30 deaths, has already imposed a partial lockdown on many regions, including Moscow, its capital, which has become the epicentre of the country’s outbreak.

Putin delivered a televised speech to the nation on Thursday, saying the partial lockdown and this week’s non-working period had helped slow the contagion, but that the latter needed to be extended.

Hours later, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the city’s restrictions would stay in place until May 1. Residents are allowed to leave their homes to buy food or medicine nearby, get urgent medical treatment, walk the dog or take out the rubbish.

The lockdown measures compound an already difficult economic situation for Russia that has been buffeted by the sharp fall in the price of oil, its main export, and pushed its currency to four-year lows.

Putin said the measures could be lifted earlier than April 30 if the situation improved.

Three senior sources told Reuters this week that the government was considering declaring a state of emergency, but Putin made no mention of that in his speech.

Putin gave Russians this week off in a similar televised address on Wednesday last week, although many have continued to work remotely.

Putin’s use of the term “non-working” led to some confusion and the Kremlin later clarified that the measure simply aimed to reduce contacts between people and that anyone who had been working remotely should continue to do so.

Days after Putin announced the measure, Moscow ordered the capital’s residents to stay at home, prompting dozens of Russian regions to follow suit.

Again following Moscow’s lead, Moscow Region, which rings the capital, said later on Thursday it would extend its lockdown until May 1.

Announcing the move in a statement on his website, Sobyanin, Moscow’s mayor, said the city did not currently plan to introduce a system of passes for residents.

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