Four months after Russia relaxed most of its coronavirus restrictions, President Vladimir Putin effectively remains in lockdown, with his staff and the few people he meets placed under an obligatory two week-quarantine before getting anywhere near him, it was revealed this week.
The 67-year-old Russian leader, who has always been health-conscious, initially downplayed the threat of Covid-19.
However, when the city of Moscow imposed a strict lockdown at the end of March he retreated to his out-of-town residence and stopped receiving visitors.
Mr Putin declared a tentative victory over coronavirus in June, anxious to hold a nationwide vote on constitutional amendments that allowed him to stay in power for at least two more terms.
While most Russians resumed socialising and travelling over the summer, Mr Putin, who typically has a busy travel schedule, remains a recluse, holding all but a few of his meetings via conference calls.
Journalists who cover the Russian president’s work as part of the Kremlin press pool told the Telegraph that print correspondents have not been invited to Kremlin events since March.
They say that the few photographers and cameramen who got to see Mr Putin have been required to spend two weeks in quarantine.
A journalist who has worked in Mr Putin’s press pool for several years told the Telegraph that he spent three weeks in quarantine at a government compound in south-west Moscow where he was confined to his room before covering a meeting.
He then had to take three Covid-19 tests before he was taken to Mr Putin’s Novo-Ogaryovo residence.
Despite all the precautions, he was not allowed within 30 metres of the president.
The unusually strict arrangements were first reported by Russian investigative media outlet Proyekt which interviewed several officials and top managers at state-owned conglomerates who confirmed that they were quarantined for 14 day before meeting Mr Putin in person.
While Mr Putin was staying at his residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi this summer, all of his staff and visitors were confined to two nearby resorts, which were closed to visitors, according to the journalist.
Mr Putin’s staff and visitors were not allowed to leave their rooms at the Dagomys sanatorium until they showed two negative coronavirus tests.
After that they were moved to the Rus sanatorium, also known as the “clean” one, where Kremlin staff and visitors were free to take walks and socialise.
Asked about the reports, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that some of the people who recently met with Mr Putin did self-isolate for 14 days but insisted that it was not obligatory for everyone.
Embattled Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, who claims to have had coronavirus, met Mr Putin in Sochi last month without any attempt at social distancing.
The Kremlin faced criticism this summer for sending Second World War veterans to a resort to keep them in isolation before they met Mr Putin for the Victory Day parade.
The Kremlin insisted that it was done for the veterans’ safety.
Russia on Thursday posted 9,000 new coronavirus cases, a dramatic uptick compared to a week earlier when the number of new infections hovered around 6,000.
Authorities in Moscow, the country’s biggest proponents of strict lockdown measures, last week issued stay-at-home orders for residents over 65 and urged companies to send office workers back home as the number of new cases began to surge.