Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, unexpectedly ordered millions of his countrymen back to work on Monday, formally ending the nation’s ambiguous six-week “non-working holiday”.
After claiming success for “slowing” the spread of coronavirus, the longtime leader used a TV address to announce that key workers in energy, communications, manufacturing and agriculture sectors would return from Tuesday. But many other restrictions would remain in place, including the most stringent laws introduced by regional leaders.
The president’s announcement effectively ended one hazy legal state meaning different things in different parts of the country – replacing it with another hazy state meaning different things in different parts of the country.
“The battle against the epidemic is not over,” Mr Putin said. “The epidemic remains dangerous, even in the areas where the situation is relatively trouble-free.”
For Moscow and the surrounding regions most heavily hit by the virus, and under the most severe lockdown, there is likely to be little material change. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin is expected to announce an extension to measures keeping residents at home with few exceptions. The removal of nationwide restrictions will also not apply to any of those in high-risk groups like the over 65s.
The timing of the president’s liberalising announcement could also not have been stranger, coming as it does on the back of alarming data suggesting Russia‘s epidemic is anything but in check.
For 10 days in a row, the country has registered at least 10,000 new cases. On Monday, a record 11,656 overnight diagnoses pushed the overall figures to over 221,000.
Going by its own official figures, Russia is now the third most affected nation on earth. And, as The Independent has already reported, it is likely the real numbers of infections and deaths are several orders higher.
Newly-released excess mortality figures for April – which suggested an additional 1700 deaths – were way out of sync of reported figures of 642.
Writing on social media, unofficial opposition leader Alexei Navalny ridiculed the longtime president’s move.
“Putin cancelled national isolation measures to fight the epidemic on a day when the country registered a record number of infections,” he wrote. “That’s wisdom?”