Putin uses coronavirus to delay crucial vote on him staying in power | World | News

He said the public vote, previously due to be held on 22 April, would be delayed until a “later date”. The proposed changes include scrapping a ban on allowing Mr Putin to run for office again. It hinges on whether Mr Putin, who is serving his fourth presidential term and has dominated Russian politics for two decades, has the right to serve two more consecutive terms.

Mr Putin promised this was a postponement, not a cancellation.

While critics call the vote a crude way of ensuring Mr Putin remains in power, the Kremlin is keen the process should look legitimate, and be perceived as the people’s choice.

The delay, though, does mean officials across the country can finally focus on the clear priority, battling a pandemic, and not securing a vote for Mr Putin.

On Wednesday Russia confirmed 163 new cases, bringing its total to 658. So far no-one has died from the virus there, officials say.

Mr Putin said: “The absolute priority for us is the health, life and safety of people.

“Therefore I believe that the vote should be postponed until a later date.”

The Russian President said the timing of the vote would depend on how the new coronavirus pandemic develops.

He also announced that Russians would not work next week “to slow the speed” of the infection.

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Denis Protsenko, chief doctor of the top Moscow hospital treating COVID-19 patients, echoed the mayor’s sentiment and later told Putin that Russia needed to “prepare for the Italian scenario.”

Mr Putin has warned that it was impossible to prevent any spread of the virus at all in Russia because of the country’s size.

But the number of confirmed cases is now climbing in Russia, like everywhere else.

The Russian economy was also under serious pressure because of the virus, Mr Putin said.

During their week off due to the coronavirus pandemic, employees would continue to be paid and key services would continue, he said.

He also announced extended welfare support, including for families with children and those who had lost jobs.

Russia has already taken measures such as a two-week quarantine for people arriving from abroad.

The country has also enforced school closures and given warnings for elderly people in Moscow to self-isolate.

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