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COVID-19: Russia reports record increase in infections; Putin says ‘situation under full control’

Visit to the coronavirus monitoring centre (Official Internet Resources of the President of Russia/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 163,000 with more than 2.3 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here’s a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast regions.

Russia

Russian officials reported a record rise in new coronavirus cases, as President Vladimir Putin tried to reassure the country that “the situation is under full control.”

The government task force overseeing the national response to the virus said on April 19 that new cases jumped 6,060 over the previous 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 42,853.

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Just 361 deaths have been confirmed by government officials, a figure that experts and critics have said appears to be a major undercount.

The continued rise in figures comes despite Russia’s early, aggressive moves to respond to the spreading virus and impose tight restrictions. Even before many European nations started imposing restrictions, Moscow moved to shut down much of the country’s vast border with China, where the virus first emerged.

Moscow’s mayor, who has been at the forefront of the effort to stem the virus’s spread, warned last week that Russia was only at the beginning of a steep rise in cases. The Russian capital has been under a virtual lockdown, with people confined to their homes except for essential errands.

Millions of observant Russians observed the Orthodox Easter holiday on April 19, with many appearing to heed church leaders’ calls to stay home and not attend church services in person.

In a recorded video address released on April 19, Putin sought to reassure Russians that the government was trying to curtail the disease.

“All branches of governments are working rhythmically, responsibly, in an organized manner,” Putin said. “The situation is under full control.”

Pakistan

As Orthodox Christians marked Easter amid extraordinary coronavirus restrictions, millions of Muslims prepared to start Ramadan with concerns about mass gatherings and mosques allowing prayers.

The Islamic holy month is scheduled to begin later this week, and some Islamic countries are struggling with pressure from religious clerics who have spurned public health orders aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

In Pakistan, which has 8,348 confirmed cases as of April 19 and 168 deaths, some clerics have refused to order mosques to close during Ramadan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has agreed to leave mosques open and instead requested that believers practice safe physical distancing. Several prominent religious clerics have even rejected that guidance, calling for adherents to pack the mosques.

Pakistan has been blamed for contributing to the outbreak of the virus in other countries after it refused to stop a gathering of tens of thousands of Islamic missionaries until early March.

Iran

In Iran, which is one of the worst-hit countries in the Middle East, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on worshipers to stay home during the month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin on April 23.

President Hassan Rohani on April 19 announced an extension of a furlough of tens of thousands inmates, part of an effort to keep the virus from spreading in crowded jails and prisons.

Rohani also said that mosques and other religious centers would remain closed for another two weeks, and decisions on gatherings during Ramadan will be decided later.

Iran has reported more than 82,000 confirmed cases, and more than 5,100 deaths.

Iran also allowed some Tehran businesses to reopen on April 18.

Belarus

In Belarus, one of a very few countries that has not imposed lockdown measures or closed borders to curb the pandemic, thousands of people converged on churches to celebrate Easter, ignoring calls from health authorities to stay at home.

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who had previously derided global concerns over COVID-19 as “mass psychosis,” visited a church without a face mask.

“I don’t approve of those who closed people’s way to church,” BelTA state news agency quoted Lukashenka as saying. “We experience these viruses every year.”

Belarus officially has 4,779 cases of infection and 42 deaths as of April 19.