By Darya Korsunskaya and Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia recorded its lowest total of new coronavirus cases since May 1 on Wednesday, with more patients discharged from hospital than new cases for the first time, which officials said showed that the outbreak was stabilising at last.
Russia now has the second most cases of the novel coronavirus in the world, behind only the United States. Wednesday’s tally of 8,764 new cases brought the official count above 300,000.
With 135 new deaths recorded, the nationwide toll is still below 3,000, much lower than in many European countries hit earlier in the pandemic. But the surge in infections and blow to the economy are among the biggest challenges of President Vladimir Putin’s two decades in power.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who returned to work this week after himself recovering from the virus, said the news that more patients had left hospital than tested positive showed “the situation is gradually stabilising, especially in Moscow”.
“This is good news, and perhaps we have begun to pass the highest point of the burden on the healthcare system.”
Now in its eighth week of a lockdown, the capital has been by far Russia’s worst hit region.
Regional outbreaks have also flared, and this week Putin flagged the situation in the poor mainly Muslim Dagestan region, where he ordered the army to set up a hospital and the Emergencies Ministry to send disinfection teams.
Some critics and relatives of people who have died have questioned the accuracy of the comparatively low death toll. Russia has defended its tally.
Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the toll this month has so far been significantly higher than in April as seriously ill patients succumb after receiving hospital treatment for weeks.
“This accumulating volume of course creates a big burden, firstly on the health care system, and on the other hand, generates a high mortality rate,” he said.
Sobyanin has said it is too early to lift Moscow’s stay-at-home order and let the capital’s residents take walks or go out for exercise. Mishustin said 17 Russian regions were ready to start relaxing restrictions, and 14 had already begun doing so, though he did not identify them.
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Alexander Marrow, Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Peter Graff)