By Alexander Marrow
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's health minister said on Friday that life was unlikely to return to normal until next February at the earliest, with thousands of new cases of the new coronavirus still being reported every day and the death toll in the country nearing 10,000.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told the Interfax news agency in an interview that 3,500 people in Russia were still receiving treatment via artificial lung ventilators, which he said was a "serious figure". He added that millions would have died had preventative measures not been taken.
Some restrictions remain in force, including a ban on international flights, extended on Thursday until August. But many measures have been eased, with restaurants, gyms and domestic travel all permitted within social distancing guidelines and certain parameters.
"What is normal life? It's going to concerts, taking flights, fully fledged work and travel. In my view, it's unlikely that this will happen before February," Murashko said, without elaborating on his choice of month.
Russia has reported 667,883 cases of the novel coronavirus - the world's third-highest tally - but just 9,859 deaths, far lower than death tolls in other countries, which has prompted some scepticism.
The Moscow health department last month said the number of deaths was around 50% higher in May than in the same month last year.
Murashko said that official data for the country as whole in May was not yet available but that the coronavirus had increased Russia's mortality rate by around 1.5%-2% since the beginning of 2020.
Vaccine and drug trials are continuing in Russia, but the health ministry on Friday said it would not recommend lopinavir, part of a combination HIV drug being used in multi-country trials by the World Health Organisation, for the treatment of coronavirus patients in Russia.
As part of efforts to finance the economic recovery from the coronavirus, Russia intends to more than double its state borrowing this year to 5 trillion roubles, the finance ministry said on Thursday.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Maria Kiselyova; Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Hugh Lawson)