Russia’s Vladimir Putin self-isolates after COVID-19 found in entourage

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FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting with athletes, participants of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, in Moscow, Russia September 11, 2021. Sputnik/Evgeny Biyatov/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin is self-isolating as a precaution after several members of his entourage fell ill with COVID-19, but is “absolutely” healthy and does not have the disease himself, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

Putin, 68, will therefore not travel to Tajikistan this week for planned regional security meetings expected to focus on Afghanistan, but will take part by video conference instead.

The Kremlin said Putin took the decision to self-isolate after completing a busy round of meetings on Monday, which included face-to-face Kremlin talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Putin also met Russian Paralympians and travelled to western Russia on Monday to observe joint military drills with Belarus.

He was quoted by the RIA news agency as telling the Paralympians on Monday that he was worried about the COVID-19 situation in the Kremlin.

“Problems with this COVID are even surfacing in my entourage,” Putin was quoted as saying at the time. “I think I’ll be forced to quarantine myself soon. Many people around me are sick.”

Putin’s decision to self-isolate suggests a potential breach in the rigorous regime set up to keep Putin, who turns 69 next month, healthy and away from anyone with COVID-19.

Kremlin visitors have had to pass through special disinfection tunnels, Putin has had two shots of Russia’s flagship Sputnik V vaccine, journalists attending his events must undergo multiple PCR tests, and some people he meets are asked to quarantine beforehand and be tested.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had been in touch with several people in his entourage who had fallen ill with COVID-19.

“Of course we know who fell ill in the president’s entourage and the self-isolation does not directly affect the president’s work,” Peskov said.

“But it’s just that in-person meetings will not take place for a while. But that does not affect their frequency and the president will continue his activity via video conferences.”

Asked if Putin had tested negative for COVID-19, Peskov said: “Of course yes. The president is absolutely healthy.”

Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute which developed the Sputnik V vaccine, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that, in his view, Putin would need to self-isolate for one week.

Gintsburg said any decision on the length of the isolation period was a matter for the Kremlin’s own medical specialists.

Other world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have also been forced to self-isolate during the pandemic.