MOSCOW, Russia — 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 is “absolutely healthy,” but will self-isolate after coming in contact with someone who contracted the virus. He didn’t clarify for how long Putin would remain in self-isolation, but assured that the president will continue working as usual.
Asked if Putin tested negative for the virus, Peskov said “definitely, yes.”
Peskov didn’t say who among Putin’s contacts were infected, saying only that there were several cases.
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.
Russian authorities have taken exceptional measures to protect Putin — who has been vaccinated with Russia’s homegrown Sputnik V shot — 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 the longtime Russian leader.
Putin on Monday met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and with Russian athletes returning from the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
During the meeting with the Paralympians, Putin mentioned that he “may have to quarantine soon.”
“Even in my circle problems occur with this COVID,” the Russian leader was quoted by the state RIA Novosti news agency as saying. “We need to look into what’s really happening there. I think I may have to quarantine soon myself. A lot of people around (me) are sick.”
Asked why Putin proceeded with public events on Monday, even though he already knew that there were coronavirus cases around him, Peskov said that the decision to self-isolate was made after “doctors completed their testing, their procedures.” Peskov asserted that “no one’s health was endangered” at Monday’s events.
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.
As of Tuesday, the country had recorded 7,176,085 cases and 194,249 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe.
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-skeptic 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 doses.
Moscow, the epicenter 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 shots 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.
The country instead pinned its hopes of curtailing the pandemic on its four homegrown vaccines — Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona, CoviVac and the one-dose Sputnik Light.