MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday likened Russia’s fight against the novel coronavirus to its battles against medieval invaders and said the next few weeks would be decisive.
In a televised meeting with regional leaders and the government, Putin outlined new measures to support businesses and workers, including tax breaks for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and extra support for the unemployed.
Putin, who said he wanted the economy to keep functioning despite the virus, was speaking after updated official data showed a record rise in the number of reported cases to 8,672, while deaths increased by five to 63.
“The next two-three weeks will be decisive for how the situation develops. It’s a period that will demand the absolute concentration of our resources and the strictest observance of doctors’ recommendations and preventative measures,” Putin said.
Putin has given regional governors wide leeway to tailor emergency measures to their own territories. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has assumed a high profile role, with the capital having more cases than any other part of the country.
“We cannot stop the economy, shut down cargo and passenger traffic between regions, or massively limit the work of businesses,” Putin said.
“You and I must understand what kind of damage, what destructive consequences, this could lead to.”
Putin gave the government and central bank five days to prepare an additional business support programme and said social contributions for SMEs would be halved and all their taxes, except VAT, deferred for six months.
He also proposed additional child benefit payments and said people who had lost their jobs as a result of economic turmoil caused by the virus would receive the upper limit of unemployment benefit payments.
Putin invoked Russia’s battles with invading Turkic nomads in the 11th and 12th centuries.
“Everything passes and this will pass. Our country has been through serious tests more than once: when tormented by the Pechenegs and the Cumans, Russia coped with everything,” he said.
“We will defeat this coronavirus infection. Together we will overcome everything.”
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Darya Korsunskaya; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Nick Tattersall)