As a measure to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, Russia is beginning what President Vladimir Putin called a “non-working week”.
The Russian government is urging people to stay at home, though mixed messaging has left many people confused.
According to officials, the new restrictions could be extended beyond April 5, depending on the health situation.
The number of Russians infected with Covid-19 passed 1,000 on March 27, with most cases detected in Moscow.
Based on that figure, the Kremlin spokesman has stressed that there is “de facto no epidemic” here, comparing Russia’s position favorably with the crisis in Europe.
Whilst state TV’s rolling news channel has changed its name to We’re Staying Home – broadcasting from presenters’ living rooms – many people are struggling to adjust after its previous insistence that Covid-19 was a “foreign threat”.
When President Putin announced a paid week off work for all, there was a rush to book holidays.
The governor of Krasnodar region, which includes the Black Sea resort of Sochi, had to order the closure of all shopping centers, parks and restaurants – and limit flights – after hotel reservations sky-rocketed.
Many Moscow residents have already headed out of town to their dachas, or summer houses.
In the Russian capital, there has been a noticeable increase in people in facemasks on the streets since President Putin’s national address.
Supermarket staff have begun wearing them and there are bottles of hand sanitizer in coffee shops.
Food stores will remain open, as well as other essential services, but from this weekend cafes and restaurants can offer takeaway only.
Later on March 25, Russia confirmed the deaths of two people who had been diagnosed with the new coronavirus. According to Ria Novosti, the 88- and 73-year-olds had pre-existing conditions. Russia has a total of 658 cases.
President 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.”
He also announced that Russians would not work next week “to slow the speed” of the infection.
However, the Russian leader warned that it was impossible to prevent any spread of the virus at all in Russia because of the country’s size.
The Russian economy was also under serious pressure because of the virus, he said.
During their week off, employees would continue to be paid and key services would continue, Vladimir Putin said.
The president also announced extended welfare support, including for families with children and those who had lost jobs.
Russia has already taken measures such as 14-day quarantine for people arriving from abroad, school closures and warning for elderly people in Moscow to self-isolate.
It has also stopped cultural and sporting events and closed gyms, theaters and nightclubs, although cafes and restaurants have been allowed to stay open.
Russia has so far stopped short of imposing the kind of lockdown seen in some European countries.
There have been more than 435,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Europe is now the center of the global outbreak.