Russia considering coronavirus emergency, say sources, but Kremlin denies it

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is considering declaring a state of national emergency over the coronavirus to allow the government to bring in tougher measures, three senior officials told Reuters, but the Kremlin denied the reports.

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Russia’s official tally of coronavirus cases rose to 2,777 on Wednesday with 24 dead. Dozens of Russian regions, including the city of Moscow, have already imposed a partial lockdown to curb the spread of the disease.

Under new rules that came into force in Moscow on Monday, residents can only leave their homes to buy food or medicine nearby, get urgent medical treatment, walk the dog or empty their bins.

But the three sources said the government was considering going further on a nationwide basis.

“You won’t be allowed to leave the house or leave town unless you have a reason,” one of the sources said.

A fourth source - a senior lawmaker who requested anonymity in order to speak freely - said the state of emergency was under serious discussion, but that no final decision had been taken.

“If needed, we (lawmakers) will back it unanimously,” the lawmaker said.

Asked about the various comments, however, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “No, a state of emergency is not being discussed.”

The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

By law, only the president can declare a state of emergency after he has formally received the support of the upper house of parliament.

Lawmakers on Tuesday passed legislation granting the cabinet of ministers the same emergency powers as President Vladimir Putin. That legislation came into force on Wednesday after Putin signed it.

The four sources said they did not know who would declare the state of emergency if a decision were taken to go ahead and that it was hard to say exactly what additional restrictions might be imposed.

The upper house of parliament is due to convene an extraordinary session on Thursday to review legislation aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus, lawmaker Andrey Klishas was quoted by RIA news agency as saying.

Additional reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Gareth Jones and Nick Macfie