Putin washes his hands

By Ignacio Ortega

Moscow, Apr 3 (efe-epa).- Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to wash his hands, literally and figuratively.

When everyone expected national measures such as a state of emergency to contain the coronavirus outbreak he opted to give Russians a month’s holiday.

“The threat remains, and experts believe that the epidemic has yet to reach its peak in the world, including our country,” he said Thursday in a televised message to the nation.

He announced that the country’s non-working period will be extended until 30 April.

A week after giving nine days of paid vacation to Russians, Putin returned to the community to give them another four weeks off.

As if it were neighbouring Belarus or Turkmenistan, not a single reference was made to the word quarantine.

The press have reported that Putin wants to avoid measures that cause panic among the population at all costs, although some analysts believe that the real reason is fear of being the target of criticism if things get complicated.

Paid holiday, non-work days and self-isolation sound much better than quarantine, a word that only applies to the sick or people who have been in contact with them, just over three million people, according to Putin.

The “holiday” was initially misinterpreted by Russians, who went out into the countryside en masse, forcing the regions, not the Kremlin, to introduce mandatory quarantines this week, although that term has only been officially used by two governors in the whole country: Krasnodar and Astrakhan.

Online Russian newspaper Meduza believes that Putin does not want the epidemic to affect his popularity ratings, even more so because Covid-19 has already caused him to postpone a constitutional plebiscite scheduled for 22 April.

Constitutional reforms that would allow him to stand for re-election in 2024, something the constitution currently prohibits, depend on support from the majority of Russians.

Analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, a former adviser to the Kremlin, said the explanation could be that a state of emergency would compel authorities to bear the losses suffered by citizens due to the imposition of such a regime.

Some have already asked who will assume the compensation costs to the tens of millions of Russians who will stay at home for several weeks, although many work for the state.

Putin handed over responsibility for crisis management to the regions, whose leaders he warned that any lack of diligence will be interpreted as “criminal negligence”.

“We have a large, very large country. There are regions where the coronavirus has already become a serious threat to people, such as Moscow, and there are regions where not a single case has been registered,” he added.

He continued: “The heads of the federal entities will receive new powers by decree.”

This will allow them to declare a state of emergency throughout the regional territory.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin urged the regions to emulate Moscow, the epicentre of the country’s outbreak with two-thirds of cases and the highest number of Covid-19 deaths.

It was the second city Saint Petersburg which was the first to apply strict measures and 75 regions have introduced quarantines, which in some cases also include restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

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