The head of Moscow’s top hospital for Chinese coronavirus patients announced on Tuesday he had tested positive for the virus less than a week after meeting and shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Chief doctor Denis Protsenko hosted Putin at the Kommunarka infectious disease hospital in Moscow last week, where the two men shook hands wearing no protective clothing. Yet before his tour, Putin kitted himself out with a full hazmat suit, blue gloves, a respirator, a pair of protective plastic boots in an effort to prevent contagion from infected patients in a high-risk area of the hospital.
On Tuesday, it was confirmed that Protsenko had tested positive for the virus and would be self-isolating from his office. The Kremlin confirmed that although there were no signs that Putin was infected with the virus, he would hold meetings remotely with his cabinet members.
During last week’s visit, Putin praised Protsenko and his staff’s efforts.
“I watched them [the hospital staff] working, all of them are on duty,” Putin said during his inspection of the facility. “One can feel that people know what should be done and how. They have everything, they effectively use their equipment and means.”
Protsenko also explained to Putin how they were preparing for two separate scenarios, the first being similar to Italy in seeing a rapid explosion of cases, the second that the viral spread quickly reaches its peak before declining.
As of Wednesday morning, Russian health authorities had recorded 2,777 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections nationwide, and 24 deaths. This is still considered a very low infection rate compared to other countries, given Russia has a population of 144.5 million people.
However, many Russians reportedly doubt the official data, including Moscow mayor and leader of the national coronavirus taskforce, Sergei Sobyanin, who has repeatedly warned that there are likely many more cases than officially recorded.
On Monday, Russian lawmakers approved legislation imposing jail sentences of up to seven years for people violating quarantine rules in response to the outbreak, as well as five-year prison sentences for spreading disinformation about the pandemic. They also passed laws giving the government the right to declare a state of national emergency over the pandemic, should it be necessary.
Moscow, a city of 12 million people, went into total lockdown on Sunday, while the majority of other regions have also entered some form of quarantine. Under the Moscow lockdown, residents are only allowed to leave their homes to go to work, shop for food or medicine, seek emergency health care, walk pets, or take out the trash.