COVID-19: Putin Extends Non-Working Period Amid Spike In Cases; Pakistan Urged To Give Workers Better Protection

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The global death toll has surpassed 51,000 with over 1 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 developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast countries.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has extended the non-working period in the country to April 30 amid a spike in the official number of coronavirus cases.

In a televised address to the nation on April 2, his second in eight days, Putin said people will continue to receive their monthly wages during the break, but he did not explain how they will be paid or by whom.

Putin said most Russians should continue to stay away from their workplace because “the peak of the epidemic has not been passed in the world, including in our country.”

Russia, which has officially reported 3,548 cases and 30 deaths — critics have questioned the authenticity of the government’s data — has already imposed a partial lockdown on many regions, including Moscow, its capital of more than 12.5 million people.

Putin said exceptions for essential industries will keep operating, and grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open. He said that it would be up to regional authorities to decide which sectors in their region should keep working, “depending on the situation, what kind of regime is enforced, and what organizations could continue working.”

“An efficient and stable economy is key to solving our tasks, including in the health-care system,” he added.

Minutes after Putin’s speech, the Kremlin announced Putin had signed a decree to prolong the non-working period.

On March 25, Putin announced a non-working week between March 28 to April 5 — essentially a weeklong holiday in Russia.

The official death toll now stands at 30, though the accuracy of official data has been questioned by critics.

On April 1, Putin signed legislation that allows the government to declare an emergency situation across the country and to establish mandatory rules of conduct during a state of emergency.

Officials have been tightening restrictions on the movement of people in recent days as the number of reported coronavirus cases jumped, especially in the capital, Moscow, which has all but confined its 12 million residents to their homes.

In the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, Kremlin-backed Ramzan Kadyrov, who has ruled the volatile region since 2007, said administrative boundaries with other parts of the Russian Federation will be closed off to slow the spread of the virus.

Kadyrov called on residents of Chechnya, who are currently travelling abroad or across Russia and plan to return home, to do so before April 5 as all forms of transport, including trains and planes, will be suspended from that day.

Only vehicles and planes transporting food, medicine, and essential items will be allowed to operate, Kadyrov said.

Pakistan

A human rights group has called on Pakistan’s government to take rapid measures to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its most vulnerable workers.

“Social distancing, quarantines, and the closure of businesses will have enormous economic consequences for garment and textile workers, domestic workers, home-based workers, and other workers in low-income households,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on April 2.

Pakistan has almost 2,300 confirmed coronavirus cases of COVID-19, with at least 31 fatalities, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

However, HRW says the real number of infections may be much higher since little testing is available.

“Pakistani authorities should take urgent steps to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 on its most vulnerable workers,” the New York-based rights group said.

Central and regional authorities have imposed partial or complete lockdowns, and all businesses not producing essential supplies have been shut down.

Between 12.3 million and 18.5 million people in various sectors may lose their jobs, according to estimates.

In Punjab Province alone, at least half a million textile and garment-industry workers had lost their jobs as of March 28, according to the Pakistan Workers’ Federation.

HRW said the government should find ways to protect those affected “from suffering loss of income that would push them further into poverty and deter them from self-isolating to contain the spread of the virus.”

“The Pakistan government should take measures so that the loss of livelihood and income doesn’t compound the threats workers face to their health,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The economically marginalized are among the most vulnerable groups affected by COVID-19, and the government should urgently find ways to protect them,” Adams said.

Belarus

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka vowed transparency in the reporting of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, as the health authorities reported a total of four fatalities due to the respiratory illness.

The Health Ministry on April 2 reported a total of 304 coronavirus cases, adding that four elderly patients suffering from “numerous chronic illnesses” have died.

Belarus’s approach to the outbreak has been criticized by some for lacking transparency, especially with regard to the reporting of cases.

But Lukashenka on April 2 insisted that the authorities “do not hide anything”

On April 7, the government “will discuss a number of issues,” the Belarusian leader said, adding: “I will prepare the information, all the statistics” on the epidemic.

Lukashenka’s comments come a day after Belarusian authorities said they did not attribute the death of a well-known actor on March 30 to the coronavirus.

The actor, Viktar Dashkevich, had tested positive to the virus, but the death certificate only mentions pneumonia.

Unlike its neighbors, Belarus has kept its borders open and has not imposed any restrictions of movement inside the country.

Meanwhile, a Belarusian news website editor was arrested on March 25 and charged with “receiving a bribe” after he published an editorial criticizing Lukashenka’s approach to the coronavirus epidemic and casting doubt on official infection figures.

Reporters Without Borders called the case against Syarhey Satsuk “a warning to media that question the Belarusian government’s health-care policies.”

The charge against Satsuk, director and editor in chief of the online newspaper ej.by, carries a possible 10-year prison sentence.

Romania

Romania’s death toll from the coronavirus reached 94 on April 2 with nine more fatalities during the previous 24 hours, the government’s crisis group said.

During the same period, 278 people tested positive for the virus, bringing Romania’s total number of infections to 2,738.

Meanwhile, President Klaus Iohannis said he had asked the government to “reroute” European Union funding to give doctors, nurses, and other personnel dealing with the epidemic a monthly bonus of about 500 euros ($543.10) a month.

The growing number of infected medical personnel has prompted many doctors, paramedics, nurses, and auxiliary personnel to resign — either in frustration at the lack of medical supplies or because of fatigue.

A total of 357 Romanian doctors, nurses, and other medical staff are among those who have tested positive, according to Romania’s crisis group.

Bucharest and Romania’s northeastern city of Suceava, which has been under a lockdown since March 31, have the highest number of confirmed cases — more than 500 and, 700, respectively, the crisis group said. Officials said 217 people with the virus have recovered.

Romania has been under a state of emergency since March 16.

In other countries, there are 217 Romanians known to have tested positive for the respiratory illness — including 25 people who have died while abroad.

Tajikistan

The head of the World Health Organization’s office in Tajikistan, Galina Perfilyeva, says no coronavirus cases have been registered in the Central Asian nation.

In a televised statement on April 1, Perfilyeva said coronavirus tests had been carried out on more than 700 people in Tajikistan: all came back negative.

While the country’s strong-armed leadership insists there are no cases of coronavirus, critics beg to differ given Tajikistan’s border with China, where the virus was first detected, and the growing number of positive tests and COVID-19-related deaths in the region.

They point out that not having any registered cases does not mean the virus isn’t there — especially since authorities have not imposed a quarantine or restricted public events and the fact that thousands of migrant workers have returned from abroad — but it could just be issues with testing.

The government’s transparency on the issue has also been questioned given it has not disclosed any information discussed at daily meetings of a crisis group that is led by Prime Minister Kokhir Rasulzoda.

In a letter on March 31, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly criticized the government for obstructing the efforts of the broadcaster’s journalists to cover the coronavirus pandemic in the Central Asian nation.

Fly expressed frustration at the government’s attempts to interfere with the operations of the service, known locally as Radio Ozodi, at a time when information “is needed more than ever.”

The Tajik Foreign Ministry is set to decide on long-standing accreditation requests from Radio Ozodi journalists in the coming days.

It has been reluctant since late October to fully grant one-year accreditations to 18 RFE/RL journalists and staff members of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service whose credentials have been withheld by the ministry or which expired on November 1.

Armenia

Armenian health authorities have reported two more coronavirus-related deaths, raising the national death toll from the epidemic to six.

The total number of coronavirus cases declared by the Health Ministry on April 2 was 663, an increase of 92 infections during the previous 24 hours. That is Armenia’s highest single-day increase.

Three of those infected were said to be in a critical condition.

Armenia on March 16 declared a state of emergency through April 14. The movement of citizens has been restricted in the country since March 25.

Self-isolation rules and travel restrictions were tightened and extended on March 31 for “at least 10 days.”

Armenia’s legislature also has granted authorities the power to track citizens’ mobile phone data in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

Justice Minister Rustam Badasian has said the extraordinary measure would not infringe on privacy and civil rights or be used for eavesdropping on opposition figures.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.