COVID-Vaccinated Putin Staffer Prompted Russian President to Isolate After Close Contact

Russian President Vladimir Putin entered self-isolation Tuesday after coming in close contact with a staff member positive for COVID-19.

Putin held several indoor engagements Monday and said he may have to quarantine soon, although Putin and the staffer are both fully vaccinated and the president tested negative for COVID-19. Putin said Tuesday that several people in his "immediate circle" were infected with the coronavirus.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin is "absolutely healthy" although coming in contact with someone who had the virus.

Putin has received Russia's Sputnik V vaccination and Peskov insisted that no one's health was endangered by Monday's meetings.

Peskov did not say when Putin's negative test was confirmed when his isolation began, how long it would last, or who else in his "immediate circle" were infected.

Putin said that the staffer who was infected was already vaccinated before the infection, but recently received a COVID-19 booster shot. Russia began offering a third shot vaccination to those who were vaccinated more than six months previously.

"Three days after revaccination he fell ill," Putin said. "We will see how Sputnik V really works."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Russian President Vladimir Putin faces COVID isolation
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with members of Russian Government and heads of United Russia party via videoconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Putin entered self-isolation after people in his inner circle became infected with the coronavirus, the Kremlin said Tuesday, adding that the leader himself tested negative for COVID-19. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP) Alexei Druzhinin/Associated Press

Russian authorities have been regularly criticized for underplaying the pandemic and for rarely imposing measures to control it even in the face of infection surges. Russia's death toll is currently running at its highest level of the pandemic, with just under 800 fatalities a day. Nevertheless, hardly any virus restrictions are currently in place.

Putin has hardly ever worn a mask publicly, though he appeared to work largely remotely and was rarely seen in public for a period before he was vaccinated.

On Monday, Putin attended several public events where it appeared from images on TV that no one wore masks. He shook hands with Russian Paralympians and pinned medals on them, attended military exercises alongside other officials, and met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose hand he also shook. Assad tested positive for the coronavirus in March and later recovered; it's not clear if he is vaccinated.

During the meeting with the Paralympians, Putin signaled that he was aware of cases close to him.

"Even in my circle problems occur with this COVID," the Russian leader was quoted by the state RIA Novosti news agency as saying. "We need to look into what's really happening there. I think I may have to quarantine soon myself. A lot of people around (me) are sick."

Peskov later said Putin was speaking "figuratively."

Asked Tuesday about why Putin proceeded with public events, Peskov said that the decision to self-isolate was made after "doctors completed their testing, their procedures." Peskov said without explaining that "no one's health was endangered" at Monday's events.

Russia's daily coronavirus infections have fallen in the past month from over 20,000 to about 17,000 — but experts have called into question how Russia is tallying cases and deaths.

Despite high caseloads, Russia has struggled to vaccinate its citizens, and its rates lag behind many other countries. As of Friday, only 32 percent of the population had received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine, and only 27 percent had been fully vaccinated.

Putin has occasionally gone to extreme lengths to protect himself from infection, despite the lack of restrictions in general. Peskov has confirmed media reports that people who meet in-person with Putin or attend events with him have to undergo "rigorous testing" or quarantine ahead of time.

Officials even set up special "disinfection tunnels" last year at his residence and the Kremlin that anyone meeting Putin had to walk through. The visitors were sprayed with a disinfectant mist, although it is not clear how effective that is. Putin also once visited a hospital in a full hazmat suit.