Fortress Russia Begins to Show Cracks as Coronavirus Spreads

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Foreign Policy:

Russian officials once touted their success in holding off the virus. Now cases are rising as their statistics are being questioned.

MOSCOW—As the coronavirus pandemic has spread, bringing nations to a halt and killing over 8,000 people in recent weeks around the globe, Russia emerged as a rare spot of calm—or perhaps indifference. 

Daily life largely continued as normal, with shops, workplaces, and schools still operating, while the authorities exuded confidence, pointing to only 147 confirmed cases and zero deaths, out of more than 116,000 tests for COVID-19 in the country of about 145 million people—one of the lowest ratios among infected nations in the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, started an oil price war with Saudi Arabia, the global economy be damned.

However, in less than 48 hours, that image has begun to crumble as the Russian government has kicked its response to COVID-19 into overdrive: shutting down its borders, limiting air travel, closing schools, and launching a large economic stimulus as medical experts have begun to question Russia’s official coronavirus statistics and the true efficacy of the response to limit its spread. 

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