Russian President Vladimir Putin entered self-isolation on Tuesday after several in his inner circle became infected with the coronavirus. The Kremlin says the leader himself has tested negative for COVID-19.
Putin is fully vaccinated with Russia’s vaccine, called Sputnik V. During a daily conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin, 68, is “absolutely healthy.” But he added that the Russian president had come in contact with someone who contracted the virus. Asked if Putin tested negative for the virus, Peskov said, “Definitely, yes.”
Peskov didn’t say when Putin began self-isolating, when he tested negative, how long he would remain in self-isolation, or who among the president’s contacts tested positive.
During a videoconference with government officials and members of the ruling United Russia party, Putin announced that several people in his “immediate circle” were infected with the virus, including a staff member he had close contact with on Monday.
That staffer was vaccinated and recently got “revaccinated,” according to Putin. The reference was apparently to a third shot that Russia is offering people whose immunizations were more than six months ago.
Even the most highly effective coronavirus vaccines in use don’t prevent all infections. However, the last several months of results support the claim that the vaccines reduce the risk of getting seriously sick or dying from COVID-19.
Russian authorities have been regularly criticized for underplaying the pandemic and for rarely imposing measures to control it. Russia’s death toll is currently running at its highest level of the pandemic, with just under 800 fatalities per day. Nevertheless, hardly any virus restrictions are currently in place.
Putin rarely wears a mask publicly, though he appeared to work largely remotely and was not often seen in public for a period before he was vaccinated.
On Monday, Putin attended several public events, most of which were indoors. It appeared from images on TV that no one wore masks. He shook hands with Russian Paralympians and pinned medals on them, attended military exercises alongside other officials, and met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose hand he also shook.
During the meeting with the Paralympians, Putin signaled that he was aware of cases close to him. “Even in my circle problems occur with this COVID,” the Russian leader said. “I think I may have to quarantine soon myself. A lot of people around [me] are sick.”
Peskov later insisted Putin was speaking “figuratively.”
Asked Tuesday why Putin proceeded with public events, Peskov said that the decision to self-isolate was made after “doctors completed their testing, their procedures.”
Russia has struggled to vaccinate its citizens, and its rates lag behind many other countries. As of Friday, only 27% of citizens had been fully vaccinated.
People who meet in-person with Putin or attend events with him have to undergo “rigorous testing” or quarantine ahead of time.
The leader has occasionally gone to extreme lengths to protect himself from infection, despite the lack of restrictions in general. Officials set up special “disinfection tunnels” last year at his residence. Anyone meeting with Putin had to walk through a disinfectant mist—even though no one is sure how effective the mist is. Putin also once visited a hospital in a full hazmat suit.
Of the present quarantine kerfuffle, Putin says, “We will see how Sputnik V really works.”
(Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, on September 9, 2021. Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)