By Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin made a rare lockdown appearance in the Kremlin on Monday after officials said improvements in the coronavirus situation may allow Russia to re-open some tourist resorts soon and relax restrictions in many regions.
Russia, which has reported the world’s third most coronavirus cases, confirmed 8,946 new infections on Monday, bringing its nationwide tally to 353,427. Officials reported 92 new deaths, pushing the toll to 3,633.
Moscow, Russia’s worst-hit region, is entering its ninth week of lockdown. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said it is too early to lift restrictions but allowed state registry offices to open in the capital from Monday.
Russia’s borders remain closed, as are schools and most non-essential shops, but Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin urged Russians on Monday not to travel abroad on holiday this summer.
Mishustin, who returned to work last week after recovering from the coronavirus, used a televised government meeting to say licenced sanatoriums would re-open on June 1 and tourist resorts could open fully when the situation became normal.
“It’s better and safer to spend the holidays in your own country,” Mishustin said.
Anna Popova, head of Russia’s consumer health regulator, said 44 of Russia’s over 80 regions were in a position to relax lockdown restrictions, allowing people to go for walks and for some non-essential shops to re-open.
Putin met the head of the state Russian Railways company face to face in his first appearance at the Kremlin since May 9, when Russia commemorated victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.
For weeks, Putin has been filmed at his residence west of Moscow chairing government meetings by video conference from a room critics call the bunker.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not immediately reply when asked if Putin had returned to working normally in the Kremlin.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Alexander Marrow, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by Katya Golubkova and Timothy Heritage)