MOSCOW — The strongman leader of Chechnya, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin, is hospitalized with possible symptoms of the coronavirus, state-run news agencies say. A spokesman suggests he is just keeping a low profile because he is “thinking.”
Uncertainty over the health of the leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has broad implications, coming just as the virus is shaking the volatile and predominantly Muslim Caucasus region of southern Russia.
Even Chechnya’s very status as part of Russia — at issue in two wars in the post-Soviet era — revolves in no small part on the close ties between Mr. Kadyrov and Mr. Putin.
“This entire system depends on the personal relationship between Putin and Kadyrov,” said Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, a specialist on human rights in the region, who is based in St. Petersburg. “It can’t be easily passed on.”
Official numbers are still low — Chechnya has reported 1,046 cases of the virus and 11 deaths — but signs are emerging daily that the toll across the Caucasus is far greater, and growing.
The pandemic appears to be hitting the neighboring republic of Dagestan harder. Mr. Putin held an unusual televised video conference with Dagestani leaders this week, warning that traditional festivities marking the end of Ramadan this weekend posed a threat.
A top cleric, Mufti Akhmad Abdulayev, told Mr. Putin on the call that more than 700 people had died there, including 50 medical workers. “No one is keeping statistics on the people who are dying of illnesses in their homes,” he said. “They die, they are buried according to tradition, and no one counts them.”
Mr. Kadyrov, 43, the governor of the Chechen Republic, has long played an outsize role in the region. His father, Akhmad, fought the Russians during Chechnya’s first bloody war for independence, in the 1990s, then switched sides and backed Mr. Putin in the second Chechen war, in the early 2000s.
But Grigory Shvedov, editor of the news outlet Caucasian Knot, which covers the region, said Mr. Kadyrov is not irreplaceable. The Kremlin’s control over Chechnya, he said, depends in large part on the money it pumps into local coffers.
“If Chechnya continues to get its budget subsidies, Chechnya can be led by someone else,” Mr. Shvedov said.
Russia’s two main state-run news agencies, Tass and RIA Novosti, reported on Thursday that Mr. Kadyrov had been taken to a Moscow hospital, possibly with symptoms of the coronavirus. Mr. Kadyrov’s aides issued only cryptic comments afterward.
Dzhambulat Umarov, the Chechen information minister, posted a quotation on Instagram that appeared to be from Mr. Kadyrov and that seemed to ridicule questions about his health, without confirming or denying that he was sick.
“They don’t like it when I’m silent,” Mr. Kadyrov is quoted as saying in Mr. Umarov’s Instagram post. “It’s nothing personal. It’s just that I am silent when I … AM THINKING.”
Mr. Kadyrov had imposed a tough lockdown as the virus began to spread, even closing the borders of his mountainous region of 1.5 million people to the rest of the country.
He called anyone who violated quarantine orders “worse than a terrorist” and said they should be “buried in a hole in the earth,” but he did not stick to social distancing guidelines himself. Visiting a hospital treating coronavirus patients in April, for instance, Mr. Kadyrov did not don a mask when he posed for a group selfie with medical workers.
And when medical workers at one Chechen hospital publicly complained about shortages of protective gear, Mr. Kadyrov called them “provocateurs” who should be fired.
It’s not clear, however, if sowing fear — Mr. Kadyrov’s typical approach to governance — has been sufficient to slow the spread of the virus.
Frequently Asked Questions and Advice
Updated May 20, 2020
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?
There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.
Can I go to the park?
Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good idea.
How do I take my temperature?
Taking one’s temperature to look for signs of fever is not as easy as it sounds, as “normal” temperature numbers can vary, but generally, keep an eye out for a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you don’t have a thermometer (they can be pricey these days), there are other ways to figure out if you have a fever, or are at risk of Covid-19 complications.
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
How do I get tested?
If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.
How can I help?
Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.
“The Chechen authorities, in my view, are not prepared to shoot or kidnap people violating quarantine,” Mr. Shvedov said. “Lacking this tool kit, they become less effective.”
Dagestani officials are increasingly acknowledging that the statistics do not describe the true scale of the outbreak.
“Across Dagestan, one of the most serious problems is that the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths are understated,” a Moscow infectious disease specialist, Dr. Irina Tragira, said in a news release issued by the Dagestani city of Derbent.
As a result, Dr. Tragira said, medication for coronavirus patients is “catastrophically lacking.” She said Dagestan had already recorded 820 pneumonia deaths that had not been classified as coronavirus-related. According to the official count, 65 people have died of the coronavirus in Dagestan.
The toll among medical workers in Dagestan appears to be particularly severe even for Russia, where doctors and nurses have been dying in staggering numbers. Several doctors in Dagestan said in interviews that some residents did not heed warnings to stay away from relatives and funerals until it was too late.
A nephrologist, Dr. Zagidat Amayeva, confided the concern to her daughter weeks before she died of the coronavirus this spring. The patients at her small-town dialysis clinic, Dr. Amayeva said, did not appear to be taking the pandemic seriously even as the government asked people to stay home.
“Most people did not believe all this,” Dr. Amayeva’s daughter, Tamara Aliyeva, said.