By Andrew Osborn and Polina Nikolskaya
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s nationwide tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surged past the 100,000 mark on Thursday after a record daily rise in new infections, days after President Vladimir Putin warned the peak of the outbreak was yet to come.
The world’s largest country by territory, Russia has been on lockdown since Putin announced the closure of most public spaces in late March to limit the scope for the virus to spread.
Russia this week overtook China and Iran in the number of confirmed cases arising from the global pandemic. But though Russia is rising up the table of nations with the highest number of confirmed cases, it has so far recorded far fewer deaths than many of the hardest-hit countries.
Russia’s nationwide case tally now stands at 106,498, its coronavirus crisis response centre said on Thursday. It said 101 people diagnosed with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, had died in the last 24 hours. That raised the official overall death toll up to 1,073.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that federal and regional authorities were doing everything they could to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“The situation in Russia is genuinely better than in many European countries because Russia succeeded in using a time lag of several weeks to urgently expand the health system’s capabilities,” said Peskov.
The figures showed it was too early to relax and walk the streets as normal however, he added.
Although authorities have rushed to build new hospitals or convert existing ones, the country’s health system is showing signs of strain.
An April 27 decree issued jointly by the health and education ministries and seen by Reuters shows that medical students, including future paediatricians and dentists, are being asked to do practical training in dedicated coronavirus hospitals from May 1, despite not specialising in infections.
The mother of one Moscow obstetrics student told Reuters that authorities have yet to explain how work would be organised or say whether students would be paid.
“Many (students) are now talking to their lawyers…Many are just filling in documents, but won’t go,” she said.
Russia is now in its fifth week of a lockdown that, together with the collapse of oil prices, has put the economy on course for a 4-6% contraction, according to the central bank.
Putin, addressing the nation on television on Tuesday, said the lockdown measures would have to be rolled over for another two weeks. “The situation is still very difficult,” he said. “We are facing a new and perhaps the most intense stage in countering the epidemic.”
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Alexander Marrow, Polina Ivanova, Olesya Astakhova and Ekaterina Golubkova; Editing by Mark Heinrich)