MOSCOW (AP) – Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov has been hospitalized with the coronavirus, the latest in a series of setbacks for President Vladimir Putin as Russia struggles to contain the growing epidemic.
“Yes, I fell ill. I’m being treated, “Peskov, a key assistant to Putin, told Interfax news agency on Tuesday.
Peskov’s wife, Olympic ice dance champion Tatyana Navka, was also infected. She told reporters that Peskov’s condition was “satisfactory” and that the couple decided to enter the hospital so as not to expose the rest of their family.
“He brought it (the virus) from work,” said Navka, quoted in the online newspaper Daily Storm.
Peskov, 52, has been a spokesman for Putin since 2008, but started working with him in the early 2000s.
The Tass news agency quoted Peskov as saying that he last saw Putin “more than a month ago”.
Journalists from the Kremlin swimming pool said on Twitter that Peskov was last seen in public on April 30 during a meeting with Putin. It was unclear if the two were in the same room because Putin has chaired his meetings by teleconference for the past few weeks from his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow.
Peskov is not the only senior government official to attack the coronavirus. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin revealed on April 30 that he had tested positive for the virus. The next day, the Minister of Construction and Housing, Vladimir Yakushev, was hospitalized, and Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova said last week that she was self-isolating after being infected.
The announcement of Peskov’s hospitalization came a day after Putin said Russia is slowing the epidemic and announced that it is easing some of the national lock-in restrictions.
But new questions arise as to the success of the response. Health officials have reported thousands of new infections, many health workers fall ill with the virus amid complaints that protective gear is scarce, and fatal fires have broken out in two hospitals for infected patients by the virus, apparently due to faulty breathing machines.
Mismanagement of the health crisis could undermine Putin’s public approval after more than 20 years in power. It has been declining since 2018, when it rolled out an unpopular reform that raised the retirement age for Russians, and is currently at its lowest level since 2013.
“If we start to see mass infections and it turns out to be a bad decision … it will hit government odds hard,” the former Kremlin speech editor who became political analyst Abbas Gallyamov. “People will certainly associate this with his (Putin’s) decision” to ease the restrictions, he added.
On Tuesday, Russia reported more than 232,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 2,100 virus-related deaths. Hours before Putin gave a televised speech on Monday about the end of the partial economic deadlock, health officials reported a daily record of more than 11,600 new cases.
“Let’s remember that,” opposition politician Alexei Navalny tweeted after Putin’s speech. “Putin lifted nationwide restrictions to curb the epidemic the day a record was set for new infections. W for “wisdom”. “
Health officials on Tuesday again reported nearly 11,000 new infections.
Due to the epidemic, Putin, 67, had to postpone a national vote on constitutional changes until last month to pave the way for him to stay in office until 2036, if he wishes.
Health officials said on Tuesday that they are investigating the safety of ventilators after fires in intensive care units, apparently due to a malfunction of the breathing apparatus. killed a total of six people in the past four days.
A fire on Tuesday at St. George’s Hospital in St. Petersburg killed five ventilated patients. Another fire on Saturday at Spasokukotsky hospital in Moscow killed a patient. The two hospitals had been reassigned to treat coronavirus patients, and in both cases defective Russian-made ventilators were said to have started the fires.
The government says hospitals have enough ventilators to deal with the epidemic, and Putin said on Monday that only “a small fraction” of Russia’s ventilator stock was used.
However, doctors in hospitals outside major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg have complained about the lack or poor quality of ventilators, as well as the widespread shortage of protective equipment.
Peskov regularly dismissed these complaints during his daily briefings and argued that Russian hospitals are well equipped with everything they need, attributing reports of shortages to isolated incidents that have been quickly dealt with by the government.
He was the courageous voice of the Kremlin in denying Russia’s involvement in various international scandals, such as inference in the 2016 American elections, the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom, and recent allegations of Russian security services plotting to poison Czech officials.
Peskov’s infection again raised questions about the spread of the virus to senior government officials.
In late March, Putin was photographed shaking hands with Dr. Denis Protsenko, head of the largest hospital in Moscow for patients with coronavirus. The following week, Protsenko was reportedly infected with the virus.
“Who did you think of in terms of” Who’s next? “When did you read the news from Peskov?” Opposition politician Leonid Volkov tweeted on Tuesday. “And why Putin (in your mind)? “
Associated Press producer Tanya Titova contributed.
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