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Key Putin aide is fourth senior Russian official to contract coronavirus

In this photo from June 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the media as his press secretary Dmitry Peskov looks on.
(Alexander Zemlianichenko / Associated Press)

Dmitry Peskov, a key aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s official spokesman, says that he has been diagnosed with double pneumonia caused by the coronavirus and that he hasn’t met in person with Putin for a month.

Peskov is the fourth senior Russian official to test positive for the coronavirus. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced April 30 that he was infected. Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev and Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova subsequently tested positive as well.

With more than 242,000 reported cases, Russia now ranks second only to the U.S. in total confirmed infections. The country has reported 2,212 virus-related deaths, though critics say the real number is probably far higher.

Peskov, 52, first revealed Tuesday that he had been hospitalized with COVID-19 but didn’t give details about his condition. His wife, Olympic ice dancing champion Tatyana Navka, also was infected and said she felt OK.

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In an interview with Russian business newspaper Kommersant on Wednesday, Peskov said that after he tested positive for the virus, his only sign of illness initially was a small fever. He told the paper he remained at home for several days until a CT scan showed infections in both his lungs.

He said his initial absence of symptoms beyond the fever gave him a false feeling of security, but then his condition worsened and he went to a hospital.

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“They caught it just in time,” Peskov said. “The essential thing isn’t to miss the moment. This virus is very bloodthirsty.”

The revelation of his contraction of the coronavirus came a day after Putin lifted a partial economic shutdown imposed in late March to stem the outbreak. Putin said the lockdown had helped slow contagion and prevented Russia’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed. He allowed the reopening of industrial plants, construction sites and other businesses depending on the situation in each of Russia’s 85 provinces.

Some questioned the wisdom of lifting the restrictions, saying Russia has yet to see its contagion peak and casting doubt on the ability of its underfunded healthcare system to cope if infections rise from the daily level of 10,000 to 11,000 new cases reported over the past week.

Peskov said he had followed all recommended precautions to avoid infection, noting that people were wearing protective gear inside the Kremlin, work documents were getting sprayed with disinfectant and in-person meetings were few.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, spring is not turning out the way Russian President Vladimir Putin might have planned it.

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It wasn’t clear exactly when Peskov and the three other infected senior officials last met with Putin, who has limited his public appearances and held most of his meetings online during the pandemic.

Peskov said that he and Mishustin, the premier, had discussed their health on the phone, and that Mishustin was recovering and already in “working condition.”

Peskov said that, prior to getting infected, he had undergone tests on practically a daily basis. “I had a feeling I was keeping things under control,” he said in the newspaper interview.


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