The number of coronavirus cases in Russia has surged to 658, with new daily cases at a record 163, the government’s official coronavirus website showed on Wednesday.
An earlier report on one of Russia’s coronavirus monitoring websites had said the number of total cases was 516.
Russian authorities acknowledged that a low number of coronavirus cases in the country could be a result of insufficient screening and warned that the nation must brace for the worst.
President Vladimir Putin donned a yellow protective suit to visit the top Moscow hospital treating coronavirus patients and conferred with officials on how to stem the outbreak. Hospital chief Denis Protsenko told Putin the country needs to “prepare for the Italian scenario.”
Critics have argued for weeks that the numbers are too low for a country with a 2,600-mile border with China, blaming a low level of testing and a long tradition of hiding unpleasant truths.
At the same time the coronavirus was engulfing Europe, Putin ordered an April 22 plebiscite on constitutional amendments that could allow him to stay in power until 2036. But he also has said the vote could be postponed if the contagion spreads.
The government and some experts have credited the low number of cases on an early closure of the border with China and a ban on entry for Chinese citizens at the time the epidemic was at full swing in that country. Starting early this month, Russia also has requested all travelers from Italy, France and other countries worst affected by the virus to self-quarantine for two weeks after arrival.
And finally last week, the Russian government has denied entry to all foreigners except diplomats and members of official delegations.