Moscow's coronavirus crisis still in 'foothills' far from peak, warns mayor

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The mayor of Moscow warned the coronavirus outbreak was only in the “foothills” of its development in the Russian capital and that a serious test lay ahead as new infections nationwide shot up by a record daily amount on Friday.

Russia reported 1,786 new cases, bringing its tally to 11,917, even as Moscow and many other regions neared the end of their second week in a state of lockdown aimed at halting the contagion. Ninety-four people have died, authorities say.

In the bustling capital of more than 12.5 million that has become the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, new cases not only jumped 1,124 to almost 8,000, but the number of patients being hospitalised has also doubled in recent days, one official said.

“I can tell you for sure that there has been no peak yet whatsoever, we are at the foothills of the peak, not even in the middle,” Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said in an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency published on Friday.

“I can only say that a serious test lies before us and we need to be preparing for it,” he said.

In Moscow, the influx of patients is already pushing hospitals and ambulances towards their limit, said Deputy Mayor Anastasiya Rakova.

Russia recorded far fewer cases of the new coronavirus than many Western European countries in the early stages of the outbreak, but its official case tally began to rise sharply this month.

Russian officials until late last month were saying that the situation was under control and that there was no epidemic.

Their tone changed however after Sobyanin, who has taken a prominent role in the crisis, questioned the veracity of official figures and said the real situation was much worse than it looked.

Residents in Moscow have been told to stay at home unless they need to make essential trips to buy food or access urgent medical care. Police said on Thursday they had already caught 400 people ignoring the order and that they faced small fines.

Some anti-Kremlin politicians have criticised President Vladimir Putin for taking what they say has been too low a profile in the push to contain and slow the spread of the virus.

The Kremlin has rejected those assertions however, and Putin made his third television appearance dedicated to the crisis on Wednesday, rolling out economic measures to help businesses hit by the lockdown.

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