Putin makes Kremlin appearance as virus restrictions ease

Putin's meeting with the head of Russian Railways, Oleg Belozerov, was the first at the Kremlin since May 9, according to his official schedule

President Vladimir Putin made a rare recent appearance in the Kremlin on Monday as Russia prepares to ease lockdown restrictions imposed over the coronavirus pandemic.

The 67-year-old has worked remotely over the past few weeks from his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, chairing meetings with officials by video conference.

But on Monday, Putin held talks with the general director of Russian Railways, Oleg Belozerov, at the Kremlin, his office said.

A spokesman said he did not know if Putin would be returning to work full time in the Kremlin.

According to his official schedule, Putin was last in the Kremlin on May 9 for celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Precautions have been taken to protect Putin since the start of the coronavirus crisis, with authorities checking the body temperature of officials and reporters attending events involving the president since early February.

Putin began working remotely from Novo-Ogaryovo in early April, after the head of Russia's main coronavirus hospital tested positive for the infection just a few days after meeting with the Russian leader.

Several senior officials have been infected with the virus, including Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said after he tested positive that he had not seen the president face to face for "over a month".

On Monday, Peskov, 52, said he was released from hospital where he had reportedly been treated for double pneumonia.

"I will be under quarantine for now," Peskov told state news agency TASS. "I will gradually begin working from home."

Russia has recorded more than 353,000 coronavirus infections, the third-highest number in the world, and 3,633 deaths.

But the number of new cases has been steadily dropping and authorities have begun easing lockdown measures in some parts of the country.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko said Monday that authorities planned to ease restrictions on domestic tourism from June 1, though officials said it was still too early to plan for vacations abroad.

The current stay-at-home rules in Moscow, the epicentre of the contagion in Russia, are in place until the end of the month.