PM Mishustin Tests Positive for Covid 19, Deputy PM Belousov to Take Over Duties for Now; Putin Oversees Government Meeting on Economic Response

As the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 surpassed 100,000 yesterday with 1073 deaths, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin was reported to have tested positive for the virus and will go into quarantine. RT reported the following:

It appears Mishustin – who replaced Dmitry Medvedev as Prime Minister in January – received the result of his test while at work. Earlier in the day, he headed a governmental session, conducted remotely. His diagnosis makes him the second major world leader known to have contracted the infection – after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

“It just became known that the tests that I’ve passed for coronavirus gave a positive result,” Mishustin told the president “In this regard, and in accordance with the requirements of Rospotrebnadzor [the national health watchdog], I must self-isolate and comply with the instructions of doctors: I have to do this to protect my colleagues.”

“What’s happening to you now could happen to anyone,” Putin replied. The President assured Mishustin that no major decisions would be taken without his input while he battles the infection.

In the meantime, First Deputy Prime Minister, Andrey Belousov will take over his duties:

Putin subsequently signed a decree making Belousov interim head of government. Belousov is a Moscow-native, like Mishustin, and has served in various positions, under both Putin and Medevedev, over the past two decades. Since 2013, he has been an economic advisor at the Kremlin. 

Belousov has a very different economic view than many of the political class that has held sway in Russia who are generally economic liberals (Alexei Kudrin, Dmitry Medvedev, Anton Siluanov, et al.). Belousov, who is close to Putin, is considered a statist who believes in the government investing in robust economic programs to help the population. He is playing a large role in the implementation of Putin’s national infrastructure projects. Mishustin did some shuffling when he came to power in January so that the liberal Finance Minister (Siluanov) wouldn’t have to report directly to Belousov as he normally would have, but directly to Mishustin. Now Siluanov will be reporting to Belousov. If Mishustin recovers and returns in a week or two, then this likely will have little impact on Russian policy, but if Mishustin becomes very ill and is out of commission for a long stretch of time, things could get interesting in terms of how to steer the post-pandemic economy.

Putin presides over a government meeting by video conference, April 2020. Photo courtesy of the Kremlin

Putin, who has extended the paid lockdown until May 11th, presided over a meeting the yesterday in connection with the economic impacts of the pandemic. Here is the Kremlin’s transcript of the meeting that you can read for yourself to determine if Putin is just sitting on his duff in an undisclosed location contemplating his navel as much of the western press would have us believe:

Taking part in the meeting were Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Anton Vaino, First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov, First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Alexei Gromov, First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office, Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, Presidential Aides Dmitry Kalimulin and Maxim Oreshkin, Minister of Labour and Social Protection Anton Kotyakov, Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov, Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov, Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Head of the Federal Tax Service Daniil Yegorov.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, good afternoon.

Welcome to all. Let us get down to work.

This week, during a meeting with heads of regions, I instructed the Government to develop a national action plan to normalise business life and restore the economy, employment and people’s incomes.

Let me stress, we must not just stablise the situation. We know the world is changing. The crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic is affecting key markets and the system of cooperation ties.

Companies, including Russian companies, are searching for and quickly adopting completely new business models based on digital and other advanced solutions. The importance of scientific and technological development is growing dramatically; and many countries that have such potential are developing it.

Let me repeat that, when planning a long-term strategy, we must consider all these factors and this new reality.

In addition, I have asked the Government to draft another package of urgent support measures for people and the economy. I am referring to decisions that must come into force very soon.

Colleagues, you know that the situation that people and companies daily face is complicated and requires new steps, actions and prompt response.

Relevant specific proposals are being drafted. I know that the Government, the Presidential Executive Office and all of us will work on this. Today let us discuss these in more detail.

But before we get started, I would like to say, or to be more precise, repeat the following.

It is important to not simply adopt the decisions that are being proposed. They must be implemented with tangible results for the people, business and the economy. This is the basis, the essence of all our work.

In this context, I would like to ask you to prepare and present detailed reports on the implementation of the extraordinary measures that we adopted in March and April, including the following specific decisions. I will remind you of them.

First, the organization of additional federal compensation to doctors, paramedics, nurses, junior medical personnel, and ambulance crews that are directly working with coronavirus patients. These decisions have been adopted. The main point now is when exactly they will receive the money.

Second, what about the special insurance for the specialists that are now helping these patients, risking their lives and health? We agreed on introducing a system similar to the insurance system for Armed Forces personnel. Has the necessary documentation been prepared?

Third, what about the additional monthly payments of 5,000 rubles for a child up to 3 years old to families that are entitled to maternity capital? Let me remind you that these payments are due for April, May and June.

Fourth, those who lost their jobs after March 1 will receive the highest unemployment benefit of 12,130 rubles, in April, May and June. Families with children where the parents are currently unemployed will be issued an additional payment of 3,000 rubles per underage child a month. I would like you to report on the implementation of these measures and whether this aid is perceptible for the people.

Fifth, it has been decided that low-income families will receive payments per each child aged between three and seven not from July 1 as planned, but from June 1. Moreover, the income of a given family will be calculated based on the current situation. I expect you to provide detailed information on whether these payments can be made strictly on time.

Sixth, starting on May 18, small and medium-sized companies in the affected industries that have preserved their personnel must receive financial assistance to pay April and May salaries to their staff. The payments will amount to one minimum wage per employee. Please report on the streamlining of this support mechanism and whether it is clear and convenient for the businesses.

I expect you to report on these and other matters by May 6. I would like to remind everyone that by May 5 the Government and Rospotrebnadzor, working together with the working group of the State Council, are to submit their recommendations on the gradual easing of the self-isolation rules after the May holidays.

Together, these reports and recommendations will be used to assess the effectiveness of the measures taken and to determine the further steps to be carried out by the federal and regional authorities.

Now let us get back to discussing the decisions we are to implement in the near future. Let us hear our colleagues from the Government.