Putin to mark Russia Day as new virus cases approach 9,000 in single day
Russian banners devoted to the Russia Day are seen in front of the Kremlin in downtown Moscow. AFP
President Vladimir Putin on Friday was set to make his first public appearance after weeks of lockdown as Russia reported nearly 9,000 new coronavirus cases in one day.
Russia, the country with the world's third-largest coronavirus outbreak, this week lifted tight lockdown restrictions as Putin sets the stage for a vote on July 1 that could extend his hold on power until 2036. On Friday, the country celebrated Russia Day, a public holiday, and Putin, 67, will mark the occasion by giving out awards in the Kremlin and raising the Russian tri-colour during a ceremony in western Moscow.
On Friday evening authorities will stage a concert on Red Square, insisting however that those in attendance will respect social distancing rules. Even though infections have been declining, many doctors and Kremlin critics say the lockdown restrictions have been lifted prematurely in Moscow, the epicentre of the Russian outbreak.
Critics accuse Putin of rushing to drum up support ahead of the controversial constitutional vote as his approval ratings fall, according to independent pollsters. On June 24, Putin will also preside over a massive military parade to mark Soviet victory in World War II.
Both the vote and the parade had to be rescheduled due to the lockdown. On Thursday, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin discouraged people from attending mass events. "This is a major risk for you, your children, and your loved ones," he said in televised remarks.
On Friday, Russia reported 8,987 new coronavirus infections from Thursday, taking the total to 511,423 cases. The capital -- Europe's most populous city with more than 12 million residents -- confirmed 1,714 new cases.
Moscow lifted restrictions including compulsory travel passes on Tuesday, a move welcomed by residents who rushed outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. Russia has confirmed a total of 6,715 coronavirus deaths, a far lower mortality rate than in other countries with large outbreaks.
Critics have cast doubt on those figures and accused authorities of under-reporting to play down the scale of the crisis. After the criticism Moscow health officials have adjusted how they report numbers.
On Wednesday, officials said the capital recorded its highest fatality count in a decade last month, with more than one-third of the deaths due to the coronavirus. The city's health department said a total of 15,713 people died in May.
It was the largest number of deaths since the summer of 2010 when Moscow was battered by an unprecedented heatwave.