putin covid
© Sputnik / Konstantin Mikhalchevskii
Russians will get a week of paid leave and a boost to benefits for those most in need, while the wealthiest will have to pay more revenue taxes, the Russian president said as he presented his plan to deal with the coronavirus.

Speaking in a televised address on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin announced a number of measures designed to support the Russian people and the national economy amid the increasingly serious threat of coronavirus in the country. He said there was no feasible way to keep the virus out, but that an efficient, coordinated effort to preempt and mitigate the damage will help protect people from the worst outcomes.

Week-long holiday

One of the immediate decisions taken by the government was to declare next week a long national holiday in Russia. Salaries for the days off will still be paid, Putin said. This is expected to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The president warned against underestimating the threat posed by the virus and said everyone should act responsibly.
Please, don't think like people often do: 'This cannot touch me.' It may touch anyone.
Constitution vote postponed

Russia will also postpone the national vote on constitutional amendments, which is currently scheduled for April 22. The package of constitutional amendments was tabled by Russia's president back in January and greenlit by legislators earlier this month.

Benefits & frozen credits

A big chunk of the measures announced by Putin deal with various benefits. The usual checks for eligibility will be suspended for six months, while some of the payments - like paid sick leave and unemployment payments - will be given a boost.

Russians whose monthly incomes suffer a sharp drop for whatever reason will be able to ask for a suspension of payments on any credits they owe. Similar support will be given to small businesses, which will also get tax breaks and protection from bankruptcy to help keep them afloat during the economic slowdown.

Comment: More details from Putin's proposal:
"I suggest loan and mortgage holidays," Putin said Wednesday addressing the nation in a televised speech. The said steps also include new payments for families with children.

Families that have children aged three and younger will be eligible for an additional monthly payment of 5,000 rubles (some $63) per child for the next three months starting from April.

"The Russian economy, like the economies of other countries, is experiencing strong negative pressure due to the consequences of epidemics. And it is necessary to support those who might face losing their jobs," Putin stated, proposing an increase in unemployment benefits.

People, whose income dropped drastically due to the coronavirus outbreak, should be able to temporarily stop their mortgage and loan payments without facing any penalties, Putin said.

Taxing the rich

Wealthier individuals and big companies are expected to cover some of the cost of the emergency measures, according to Putin's plan. Russians who have money in bank accounts and have invested in equities over a certain threshold will have to pay income taxes on their revenues - this previously came under an exemption.

The tax on corporate dividends paid to foreign jurisdictions will get a hike from two percent to 13 percent. Putin said most of this money goes directly to individual business owners, who avoid paying due taxes in Russia this way.

Comment: Putin said: "Currently two-thirds of such funds, and, in fact, this is the income of specific individuals (as a result of various kinds of schemes of the so-called optimization), are subject to a real tax rate of only 2 percent. While citizens, even with small salaries, pay income tax of 13 percent. This is, to say the least, unfair. Therefore, I propose for those who withdraw their income in the form of dividends to foreign accounts, to provide a tax rate on such dividends of 15 percent."

"It will require changing our agreements with certain nations on avoiding double taxation," Putin said. "If our foreign partners do not accept our suggestion, Russia will withdraw from such agreements unilaterally."

Brace for impact

Russia has so far largely been spared by the Covid-19 pandemic. It currently has 658 cases of the coronavirus, and the country was quick to implement certain crucial measures - like restricting international travel - to keep the disease in check.

However, the number of infected people has jumped by 163 in 24 hours, fueling concerns that an explosive growth of positive tests may happen within days.

The national economy is also beginning to experience the effect of the global economic slowdown. Russia came to the crisis prepared better than many thanks to large reserves and macroeconomic stability, but it still must brace itself to navigate through the storm.