On March 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Kommunarka Hospital in Moscow, which houses most of the country’s hospitalized coronavirus patients. Putin met with the hospital’s chief doctor, Denis Protsenko. Though the Russian leader wore a full-body hazmat suit while inspecting the hospital, neither he nor Protsenko wore any personal protective equipment (PPE) at all when they conferred in person and even shared a handshake, according to a report by the English-language Moscow Times.
The absence the unprotected handshake suddenly became significant on Tuesday, when Protsenko announced that he has tested positive for coronavirus just one week after his meeting with Putin. The virus typically passes from person to person, and health experts strongly advise against shaking hands to avoid further spread.
Protsenko has been a prominent public figure in Russia’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, posting almost daily updates on social media about the activities at his hospital. But shortly after he posted his announcement late Tuesday, the Kremlin rushed to issue a statement to reassure Russians about Putin’s own health.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told local news agencies that “everything is fine,” and that the Russian leader has been receiving regular tests for the virus, according to the Moscow Times report.
This photo was taken last Wednesday when Putin visited Moscow's main coronavirus hospital. Since then, Denis Protsenko, the head doctor on the left shaking hands with him, has tested positive for coronavirus pic.twitter.com/qFzyx4jrmr
— max seddon (@maxseddon) March 31, 2020
The Russian government has been widely suspected of being an unreliable source of information about the impact of the current health crisis. Earlier in March, Putin condemned reports that the pandemic was more widespread in Russia than the official numbers indicated as “fake news.”
But a spike in illnesses in Moscow hospitals earlier in March has led to speculation, even among Moscow residents, that the government was not reporting all cases of coronavirus infections, disguising some with pneumonia diagnoses.
In addition, Moscow authorities denied for 10 days that the city — which is home to one in every 14 Russians — would need to impose a stay-at-home order to control the spread of the disease. But on March 29, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced a lockdown would go into effect on March 30 and run until at least April 5.
On Tuesday, Russia reported 500 new COVID-19 cases, the country’s largest official single-day total since the pandemic began. According to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Russia had 2,337 cases as of Tuesday, with 17 patients having died of the disease.
In his Facebook post, Protsenko said that he felt “quite well,” as quoted by Newsweek. He said that he was currently self-isolating and was able to work via telecommuting.