Vladimir Putin Says COVID Is Rampant Among His Entourage

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that there are "several dozen" people in his inner circle who have contracted the coronavirus as he remains in self-isolation.

The Kremlin announced this week that Putin would go into self-isolation due to a number of COVID cases among his entourage, but did not specify how widespread it was.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Putin had tested negative for the disease and was "absolutely healthy."

On Thursday, Putin gave more details about the outbreak as he apologized for being a remote participant at a meeting of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), hosted in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe.

"I am very sorry, but this is due to the fact that, as you know, cases of the coronavirus were detected in my inner circle," he said via video link according to Russian state news agency Tass, "not just one or two but several dozen people."

He added that he regretted he was not able to "shake hands" or "hug" any of the participants in the CSTO "but, of course, we are interested in participating, albeit remotely, in discussing the key tasks facing our organization."

Newsweek has contacted the Kremlin for comment.

It comes ahead of Russia's parliamentary elections which start Friday and are being held over three days to mitigate against the spread of COVID.

With a number of opposition figures barred from running, members of Putin's United Russia party are expected to win comfortably, although a low turnout is expected.

Putin, 68, said in June he had been administered the domestically produced Sputnik V vaccine, although the Kremlin did not share images of him being inoculated.

Putin is rarely seen in public wearing a mask although he has conducted a significant amount of government business remotely since the start of the pandemic.

He takes pains to protect himself, with Peskov revealing in 2020 that those granted an audience with the president have to go through "disinfection tunnels," undergo testing and even face quarantine.

Russia is the fifth hardest COVID-hit country with the authorities announcing on Thursday 19,594 new cases over the last day, the highest rise since August 26.

There were 794 deaths recorded bringing the toll to 195,041, according to the national coronavirus information center, although experts have said the tally is likely to be much higher.

While daily infections in Russia are dropping, there is still low take up of the domestically produced vaccine, with only just over a quarter of the population (27 percent) having been fully vaccinated.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) via video conference outside Moscow, on September 16, 2021. He said "dozens" in his circle have COVID-19. ALEXEY DRUZHININ/Getty