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BREAKING: Russian Prime Minister tests positive for Covid-19

(MOSCOW) — Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Thursday that he has tested positive for the new coronavirus, becoming the highest-ranking Russian official known to have gotten infected.

Mishustin told President Vladimir Putin during a video call that he would self-isolate but planned to stay in touch on key policy issues. It wasn’t immediately clear when the two men last met.

Since early in the outbreak, the Russian president has minimized meetings and switched to holding daily video calls with officials.

First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov will temporarily perform Mishustin’s duties.

Mishustin, a 54-year old former tax chief, was named prime minister in January. During the video call, which was recorded and later televised, he didn’t say if he had COVID-19 symptoms or anything about his general condition. He displayed no visible signs of illness and spoke without difficulty.

Putin wished Mishustin a swift recovery and said he hoped the prime minister would continue taking part in drafting policies to shore up the Russian economy, which has been hurt by the virus pandemic.

“What happened to you, could happen to anyone,” Putin said. “Along with other Cabinet members and colleagues from the presidential office, you have undoubtedly been in the zone of high risk.”

“No matter how you limit contacts, it’s impossible to avoid communication with people while drafting decisions,” Putin said.

He asked the prime minister to call him after checking into a hospital.

Russians who have the virus but light or no symptoms of illness are allowed to stay home, and it wasn’t immediately clear if Mishustin’s hospitalization reflected the gravity of his condition or was an extra precaution.

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“I hope you will remain in good physical shape and take an active part in drafting decisions that we discussed today,” Putin said in a reference to a call with top officials earlier Thursday. “Those decisions will not be made without your participation, your input.”

In Russia, the prime minister oversees the economy and answers to the president.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who leads a government panel tasked with managing Russia’s virus oubreak, said Mishustin had undergone regular testing for the virus and strictly observed safety protocols to avoid exposure or spreading the virus.

“It’s a signal to all of us – let’s drop all that populist talk” about lifting restrictions, Sobyanin said in televised comments.

Mishustin himself sent a similar message to the Russian people, saying that his personal situation underlined the need for strictly observing a government-ordered lockdown.

“Please remember, that the date when the country could return to a normal way of living depends on everyone’s discipline and will,” he said.

Mishustin’s spokesman, Boris Belyakov, said the prime minister mostly relied on video calls to communicate during the pandemic and had direct contact with a very narrow circle of people, who are now quarantined and will be tested for the coronavirus.

Russian health officials reported a record daily spike of 7,099 new confirmed cases on Thursday morning, which brought the country’s total caseload to 106,498, including 1,073 deaths.

Friday marks the start of long May holidays, a period when Russians flock to country homes, meet with friends and have barbecues.

Earlier this week, Putin extended a partial economic shutdown imposed in late March to run through May 11, the end of the holiday periods.

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Regional authorities across vast Russia have similarly prolonged lockdowns obliging most people except those working in a few vital industries to stay home. Only visits to nearby stores and pharmacies and walks with dogs are allowed in most cities.

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