Cases of coronavirus have continued to rise in Russia as the country began to slightly ease its nationwide lockdown on Tuesday. Russia overtook Spain to become the second largest epidemic in the world behind only the United States. 

The country’s health ministry said Russia now has 232,243 confirmed cases, following a week where it had been registering more than 10,000 new cases a day

In efforts to allay fears that President Putin himself could have been exposed, his spokesman Dmitri Peskov told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that he had not met Putin in person for a month. 

Despite that disquieting picture, Russia nonetheless on Tuesday formally began the first phase of easing its lockdown. A day earlier, Putin announced that regions from Tuesday could begin deciding when and how to lift the restrictions that have required businesses to close and non-essential workers to remain at home. 

That directive means Russia will now likely see a patchwork of different levels of restrictions across its vast territory, as some regions slowly reopen. Others though are likely to remain under strict lockdown for weeks more.

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