Mikhail Mishustin is temporarily stepping down as Prime Minister of the Russian Federation while recovering from a coronavirus, he told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.
The 54-year-old suggested that First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov – an economist and former assistant to Putin – serve as interim prime minister in his absence.
Putin, who was listening to a televised videoconference, sighed on hearing the news, wished Mishustin a speedy recovery and said he agreed with the proposed replacement.
Mishustin, who was one of the main coordinators of Russia’s response to the new coronavirus, is the first senior Russian official to publicly declare that he has the virus. He announced the news a few hours after the number of confirmed virus cases in Russia exceeded 100,000.
“I discovered that the coronavirus tests I had done came back with a positive result,” said Mishustin, who was appointed by Putin in January. “I have to isolate myself and follow the doctors’ instructions. It is necessary for the safety of my colleagues. “
Mishustin was a relative political stranger – the country’s chief tax officer for 10 years – before his appointment to become Putin’s right-hand man. His predecessor as Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev – a longtime ally of Putin – resigned when the president announced a wide range of proposed constitutional reforms that undermined Russian power structures.
Mishustin said he would stay in touch with government officials and Putin by telephone and videoconference despite his condition.
“What happens to you can happen to anyone,” Putin replied in a neutral tone. “When you get to the hospital, call me. I’ll wait for your call. “
The broadcast of the meeting, which showed the men on split screens, lasted just under four minutes.
Mishustin will spend his period of self-isolation in a hospital under the supervision of doctors, said his spokesman Boris Belyakov, without revealing the exact location where the Prime Minister would be treated.
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Belyakov added that anyone who had been in contact with Mishustin would go into solitary confinement and be tested for the virus.
The Russian national count of confirmed coronavirus cases hit the 100,000 mark earlier Thursday after a record daily increase in new infections.
Russia overtook China and Iran this week in the number of confirmed cases resulting from the global pandemic, but has so far reported 1,073 coronavirus-related deaths – far lower than most countries hardest hit.
Putin warned that the peak of the epidemic had not yet come and authorities said there could be a new peak of cases if people flouted the lockdowns on public holidays in early May .
The largest country in the world by territory, Russia has been locked out since Putin announced the closure of most public spaces at the end of March to limit the possibility of the virus spreading.
Putin and the cabinet held remote meetings to avoid contact.