Spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin hospitalized with coronavirus

Though the COVID-19 outbreak was slow to spread in Russia, the country has in recent weeks seen growth rates explode.

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By Matthew Bodner

MOSCOW ⁠— Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state news agencies Tuesday that he has been hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19.

Peskov told TASS news wire that he last saw his boss, President Vladimir Putin, one month ago. Putin has been seen in recent days taking one-on-one meetings without wearing a mask.

“Yes, I have fallen ill,” he said. “I am being treated.”

Peskov is just one of several senior Russian figures to contract the illness and become sick. Last month, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said he was heading to a hospital after testing positive with the virus.

Mishustin temporarily stepped down from his duties as prime minister. At least two other Russian government ministers have tested positive for the virus.

Though the COVID-19 outbreak was slow to spread in Russia, the country has in recent weeks seen growth rates explode. As of Tuesday, it had registered over 230,000 cases of the virus — the second-largest reported outbreak after the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.

Peskov’s infection and hospitalization comes on the first day after Putin announced an end to a nationwide “non-working” regime that has been in place since the start of April.

Putin lifted the “non working” regime despite the fact that Russia’s outbreak is the second-fastest growing in the world, with more than 10,000 new cases reported every day for more than a week.

This regime was essentially a stay-at-home order. But rather than lift restrictions, Putin appeared to be delegating COVID crisis management down to regional leadership, adopting a hands-off approach.

Putin has seen his approval ratings take a hit amid the crisis, falling to a historic low of 59 percent, according to a poll released last week by the independent Lavada Center polling group.

Despite Putin declaring an end to the nationwide stay at home order, a number of regional governors and leadership have said they will not lift lockdowns until the end of May.

Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin, who has often set the tone for regional crisis response, ordered an extension of Moscow’s strict pass-based lockdown until May 31 last week.

Several other regions followed his lead on Tuesday after Putin lifted the national order.