President Putin made a visit to a Moscow hospital last week to visit the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus. Putin donned a full hazmat suit for part of the visit but for other parts of the visit he wore a track suit over a t-shirt. His guide for the tour was Dr. Denis Protsenko who is sort of the Russian equivalent of Dr. Fauci. He’s the doctor who has been giving updates on Russian television. Today, Protsenko announced on Facebook that he had tested positive for the virus, but a spokesman for Putin was quick to downplay any concern:

Last Tuesday Denis Protsenko met with the Russian leader who inspected the Kommunarka hospital while wearing a bright yellow hazmat suit. But the 67-year-old Putin was also seen talking to Protsenko without any protective gear.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov swiftly told Russian news agencies that Putin took regular tests and there was no reason to worry about his health.

“Everything is fine,” Peskov said.

You can see Putin and Protsenko talking and getting on an elevator together in this brief video:

Two weeks ago I wrote about the spread of the coronavirus in Russia. Despite its proximity to China, Russia was reporting on March 16 that there were only 93 cases in the whole country. The situation is worse now with an official tally of 2,337 cases and 17 deaths. However, there is still some reason to think the Russian numbers may be fishy. Radio Free Europe reports there has been a surge of pneumonia cases in Russia which the government is claiming is distinct from coronavirus:

Russia’s statistics agency reported last week that pneumonia cases nationwide had increased by 3 percent compared with the 2018-19 season. In Moscow, they jumped by nearly 37 percent, according to the agency, known as Rosstat.

That’s fueled skeptics’ doubts that health officials were undercounting, or misclassifying, likely coronavirus cases as merely pneumonia.

The Doctors’ Alliance, an independent trade union of medical workers, has openly accused the government of lying to the public about the figures.

The skepticism has been further deepened by the two fatalities that involved people exposed to the coronavirus yet whose deaths have been classified otherwise.

On March 19, Moscow’s task force coordinating the coronavirus response announced that a 79-year-old woman who had tested positive for COVID-19 died at a Moscow infectious disease hospital. The woman, who had been hospitalized a week earlier, had diabetes and other health problems and was later transferred to an infectious disease unit, where she later died.

Doctors attributed her death to the coronavirus, but authorities later attributed it to a blood clot. They also did not say how she contracted the virus in the first place.

Last week, Putin did order people to take a paid week off from work but the Daily Beast reports it wasn’t being treated as a lockdown, at least not until Sunday night:

On Sunday, most of the Russian capital’s downtown was still open, and public transport as well. Bars were closed, but young people continued to hang out in hidden corners. Skateboarders focused on their kickflips, as if no epidemic mattered. A group of hipsters outside a still-open bookstore listened to a girl read aloud, her face pink in the light of sunset. The poem was one of Joseph Brodsky’s: “They loved to sit together on a hillside…”

Then on Sunday night, Russia slammed its doors a little harder, in a pattern now familiar to countries around the world: governments first try to persuade, and when that fails, as it usually does, they try to enforce the quarantines and distancing. A few hours before midnight Sunday night, authorities finally announced a complete lockdown for the capital and its 11 million residents…

On Saturday, authorities admitted that 166,000 Russians are on a coronavirus watch list—not confirmed with infection, but suspected of having the contagion or of being at risk. That’s a worrisome number. It suggests the observable cases are vastly higher than those confirmed, and again raises the question of why no clear determination had been made about many of them weeks ago.

So progress is being made but it’s probably far too late to prevent it from spreading widely. The Daily Beast points to this English-language rap video which expresses a traditional Russian fatalism. The language here is NSFW but you do get the impression some Russians think they are too tough to get infected. It would be quite a surprise if Putin himself proved them wrong.