President Vladimir Putin will self-isolate after coronavirus cases were detected in his inner circle, the Kremlin said Tuesday, as Russia struggles with stubbornly high COVID-19 infection rates.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin was “absolutely healthy”.
When asked whether Putin had taken a coronavirus test and if it was negative, Peskov replied: “Undoubtedly”.
Putin had been due to travel to Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe for a regional summit later this week but in a call with President Emomali Rakhmon said he would not be able to attend in person.
“Putin said that in connection with identified coronavirus cases in his circle, he will observe a self-isolation regime for a certain period of time,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
“Self-isolation doesn’t directly affect the president’s work, there will just be no in-person events for some time,” Peskov told journalists.
He did not specify how long the 68-year-old president will be self-isolating for and declined to say who in Putin’s entourage had tested positive.
Later on Tuesday, Putin was due to meet with the leadership of the ruling United Russia party ahead of parliamentary polls on 17-19 September.
It is unclear whether he will be in self-isolation throughout the election week-end.
Russian authorities have taken exceptional measures to protect Putin — who says he has been vaccinated with Russia’s homegrown Sputnik V jab — since the start of the pandemic.
Foreign leaders, journalists and officials have all been required to self-isolate in advance of being in contact with Putin and a disinfection tunnel was installed at his residence outside Moscow.
The Russian leader said in late June that he was vaccinated with Sputnik after months of secrecy around the issue, but the Kremlin did not show images of the inoculation.
In recent months, the longtime Russian leader had resumed his work trips and face-to-face meetings, but many of his contacts are still required to spend two weeks in quarantine.
Putin on Monday met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and with Russian athletes returning from the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
– Vaccine-sceptic population –
Russia is among the countries hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic — with the fifth-highest number of recorded cases according to an AFP tally — and has struggled to rein in infections despite easy access to vaccines.
Infections have been falling in recent days after a spike in August, but health officials still reported 17,837 new cases and 781 new deaths on Tuesday.
Authorities have struggled with a vaccine-sceptic population, with independent polls showing that a majority of Russians do not plan to be inoculated.
As of Tuesday, about 39.9 million of Russia’s 146 million people had been fully vaccinated, according to the Gogov website, which tallies Covid data from the regions.
Russia has several homegrown vaccines freely available to the public, but does not distribute any Western-made jabs.
Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, and a host of regions have introduced mandatory vaccination measures to speed up the inoculation drive, and Putin has repeatedly called on Russians to get vaccinated.
The Kremlin initially set a goal of fully inoculating 60 percent of Russia’s population by September, but later dropped that target even though free jabs have been available since early December.
Russian authorities have been accused of vastly downplaying the effects of the pandemic and, after a tight first lockdown in 2020, have refrained from introducing restrictive new measures.
As of Tuesday the country had recorded 7,176,085 cases and 194,249 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe.
However, the official figures only count deaths where the virus was identified as the primary cause of death after an autopsy.
Under a broader definition for deaths linked to the coronavirus, statistics agency Rosstat reported in late August that Russia had seen more than 350,000 fatalities.