• The San Juan Daily Star

Putin is isolating after possible exposure to coronavirus

By Anton Troianovski

President Vladimir Putin of Russia is isolating because of possible exposure to the coronavirus, the Kremlin said Tuesday.

Putin canceled a planned trip to Tajikistan this week for a Central Asian security summit, the Kremlin said, describing a phone call that Putin had with Emomali Rahmon, the Tajik president.

“Vladimir Putin said that in connection with identified cases of the coronavirus in his environment, he must observe self-isolation for a certain period of time,” the statement said.

Putin said earlier this year that he had been vaccinated with the two-dose regimen of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. But he has continued to be extraordinarily careful in his public appearances, often requiring people he meets to quarantine beforehand.

Putin signaled Monday that he might have to isolate, although some Russian news outlets interpreted his comments as a joke.

“Even around me, there are problems with this COVID thing,” he said in an informal conversation with Paralympic athletes at an event at the Kremlin that was broadcast by state media. “I think I might have to quarantine soon, myself.”

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Tuesday that the president had been in close contact with multiple people who had tested positive for the virus. He said Putin would continue working while in self-isolation and voiced confidence that the vaccine would protect him from a serious case of the disease.

“We all know that the vaccine is guaranteed to protect you from serious consequences, but cases of illness are still possible,” Peskov said. “The president is absolutely healthy.”

Putin had been scheduled to attend a summit Friday of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security group. He will still participate in the meeting but will do so by video link, the Kremlin said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Xi Jinping of China are also scheduled to address the gathering remotely.

Putin’s isolation — the first time he has taken such a step because of potential exposure — underscores the pandemic’s continuing severity in Russia. While Putin has said that Russia has handled the pandemic better than many Western countries, widespread vaccine hesitancy and lax mask-wearing have allowed the delta variant of the coronavirus to spread largely unchecked.

Russia’s officially reported mortality from the coronavirus has been essentially flat, at just below 800 deaths per day, since July. The remarkable stability of the daily toll has led some analysts to question its veracity, though officials insist it is accurate.

Putin had several in-person events Monday as officials were deliberating over whether he should go into quarantine. In addition to hosting Paralympic athletes, Putin on Monday met with President Bashar Assad of Syria, a close Russian ally in the Middle East. The meeting with Assad, Peskov said, took place “before the decision was made about the necessity of self-isolation.”

“No one’s health was put in danger,” Peskov said.

Both Assad and his wife, Asma, contracted the virus but quickly recovered, officials said in March. There was no word from Syria on Tuesday that Assad would need to self-isolate after the meeting with Putin.

“We are working together on solving the most important problem that all of humanity faces today — the fight against the coronavirus infection,” Putin told Assad, according to a transcript published by the Kremlin on Tuesday. “I hope that, with our joint efforts, we will be able to help the Syrian people get back on their feet in every sense of the word.”

Russia intervened in support of Assad in Syria’s civil war in 2015 and turned the tide of the conflict in his favor, amid heavy criticism from human-rights groups of a brutal bombing campaign. Russia delivered 250,000 doses of its one-shot Sputnik Light vaccine to Syria in July.

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