Putin warns Russia to prepare for 'extraordinary' virus crisis

MOSCOW, Russia – President Vladimir Putin on Monday, April 13, warned officials to brace for "extraordinary" scenarios in the coronavirus pandemic as Moscow tightened its lockdown measures and Russia reported its highest daily infection figures yet.

In a video conference with officials on Monday, Putin said the next weeks would be "decisive" for Russia's fight against the virus as the situation "is changing practically every day, and unfortunately not for the better."

He told officials that they need to "consider all scenarios for how the situation will develop, even the most complex and extraordinary."

In the video conference, Putin called for measures to end shortages of protective equipment for medics. (READ: Moscow stretched 'to limit' by virus cases – official)

"I know there's not always enough of that and of course here we need additional measures to get rid of all these shortages," the president said.

He added that Russia would also bring in the defense ministry to help if necessary.

Russia has sent military planes with specialists and equipment to countries including Italy, China and the United States, gestures that have prompted criticism from some Russians over using crucial resources for geopolitical aims.

Digital travel permits

As part of tightening virus measures, Moscow authorities began on Monday issuing digital permits to reduce violations of the coronavirus lockdown as Russia reported more than 2,500 new infections, its highest daily rise yet.

Officials said that more than 800,000 passes were issued to people planning to travel by car or public transport ahead of the system's formal launch on Wednesday.

But they said that hackers targeted the mayor's office website and applicants complained on social media they were not able to get a pass despite multiple attempts.

People will be assigned a special code consisting of a sequence of figures and letters -- which can be printed out or received by email -- if people report where they are planning to go.

Work passes will be valid until April 30, while passes obtained to go to a doctor or elsewhere can only be used once.

Police patrols will be able to check the passes on the streets and could fine people for violations.

Exempt are armed forces personnel, municipal officials, and journalists, among others.

Hospitals approaching limits

The digital permit system may be expanded to monitor people going out on foot even within their neighbourhood, if needed, authorities said.

Authorities had initially planned to introduce an aggressive surveillance system and assign Muscovites scannable QR codes each time they wanted to leave their homes, but that sparked huge controversy.

The plan was dropped in favour of the current system.

Under strict confinement rules in the Russian capital, Muscovites are only allowed to leave their homes to walk their dogs, take out trash and visit their nearest shop though private car journeys have not been restricted up to now.

Moscow has been under lockdown since March 30, but is now struggling to cope with the influx of new patients and officials have said hospitals are approaching their limits.

Russia on Monday reported 2,558 new infections -- the biggest daily increase to date -- bringing the total tally to 18,328 cases and 148 fatalities.

The actual numbers are believed to be much higher, however, since many with mild symptoms are not being tested.

The densely populated capital of more than 12 million residents has emerged as Russia's epicenter of the contagion with 11,513 cases and 82 deaths.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova, who is coordinating efforts to fight the virus, predicted higher numbers of cases in Moscow and the surrounding region would continue to rise in the coming days.

"Of course we hope this growth will plateau," she added. – Rappler.com