Vladimir Putin, 67, exempts himself from coronavirus isolation for over-65s

Vladimir Putin has been granted an exemption to a rule demanding all over 65s in Moscow self-isolate at home amid the coronavirus scare.

The move comes as senior officials and members of the public are being strictly tested before meeting the 67-year-old Russian president.

A video shows Putin's loyal ally and defence minister Sergei Shoigu undergoing a Covid-19 test on his plane returning from Syria.

Russia has the lowest official infection rate among major countries – but the Kremlin is taking no chances.

Putin's spokesman said that since the strongman lives and works "state residences" the edict from Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin for the over 65s to self isolate was a "relative term" in relation to the Russian president.

Putin does not live in his Moscow apartment, said Dmitry Peskov.

The stay-at-home order is due to come into effect on Thursday, with the over-65s receiving a £43 payment for cooperating.

"When there is a public event, we ask medics to test the participants," said the spokesman.

"This is what was done on [Putin's] trip to Crimea.

"We will follow this practice in the future."

This is why Putin was shown meeting ministers not wearing a mask, it was reported.

Defence Minister Shoigu's test was "negative", said military sources.

The result came almost immediately compared with most tests in Russia taking several days to be confirmed after they are sent to a former biological warfare plant called Vector in Siberia.

Russia has 438 people infected with coronavirus across 11 time zones, according to official statistics, but many believe the lack of testing has deflated the real level of infection.

Official figures from Russia – a country of some 146 million people – show just 253 confirmed cases and only one death.

The tiny European state of Luxembourg, with a population of just 628,000, has already reported eight deaths from its 670 diagnosed coronavirus infections.

A social media post alleging that there were over 20,000 coronavirus cases in Russia went viral before being quashed by the state security service.

The Russian government certainly moved swiftly to prevent a major outbreak.

Putin closed the country's 2,600 mile long border with China on January 30 and any isolated cases were quickly quarantined.

Dr Melita Vujnovic, the World Health Organisation's representative in Russia, told CNN that testing began in Russia in late January and "social distancing is the second component that really also started relatively early".

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