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Putin Extends No-Work Order For Russia Until May Over COVID-19 Pandemic

Russian President Vladimir Putin is extending a national no-work order through the end of April, hoping to clamp down on the COVID-19 pandemic. Russia reported a spike of 771 new coronavirus patients on Thursday, sharpening a dreaded upward curve in cases.

Russia has now confirmed more than 3,500 coronavirus cases, and 30 people have died from COVID-19. Moscow and St. Petersburg have been hot spots for the respiratory disease, officials say.

"We have not reversed the trend" of new cases in Moscow and other areas, Putin said as he announced the extension, according to a translation by Russian-owned media outlet Ruptly.

Millions of Russians in Moscow and elsewhere are already under stay-at-home orders, and the country is in a weeklong "official non-work period," which Putin ordered last week to slow the spread of the virus.

During the work stoppage, Putin has stipulated that employees must still be paid their regular wages, despite all but the most essential businesses — including pharmacies, groceries and banks — being told to shut down.

The pandemic has also affected the president: Putin is working remotely from Novo-Ogaryovo, a presidential estate west of Moscow, after a doctor he met with last week tested positive for the coronavirus. The doctor leads Russia's main COVID-19 hospital, as The Moscow Times reported.

Putin announced his plan in a speech from Novo-Ogaryovo Thursday afternoon, local time.

The move comes one day after Putin and his cabinet discussed how to cope with thousands of Russian citizens returning home from living abroad.

"Since March 11, 2020, 825,031 people have entered Russia. This is a lot," Putin said on Wednesday. He added that about 20,000 more Russians are still trying to come back from overseas.

Putin recently ordered broad policy shifts to soften the pandemic's economic effects, including a suggestion to raise the cap on most unemployment benefits by around 50%, to the level of the national minimum wage of 12,130 rubles per month (around $154).

The president has also proposed a six-month moratorium on bankruptcy claims and declared "consumer loan and mortgage holidays."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.