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Coronavirus tests fly by private jet as Russia’s tycoons step up

President Vladimir Putin, who ordered most Russians to stay home until the end of this month, has warned that the epidemic has yet to peak and is spreading deeper into the regions.

By: Bloomberg | Updated: April 23, 2020 9:09:25 am
Coronavirus tests fly by private jet as Russia’s tycoons step up Test tubes containing samples from patients sit in a rack ahead of scanning during a swab testing process to identify Covid-19 at the Invitro LLC laboratory in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (Bloomberg: Andrey Rudakov)

Hours after the first coronavirus diagnosis in Apatity, a city of 55,000 people above the Arctic Circle, a Gulfstream jet owned by the billionaire Guryev family flew in 100 express test kits. Hundreds more donated by the family soon followed to the region where their PhosAgro PJSC mines key ingredients for fertilizers, an example of how Russia’s billionaires are spending more than $300 million they’ve pledged to help contain the pandemic.

With the front lines of Russia’s battle against coronavirus moving from Moscow to the often remote regions where many of the country’s industrial assets are located, tycoons are taking steps to attempt to cushion the blow in areas where they are the primary employers.

Their contributions to buy medical equipment, protective gear and even build hospitals have bolstered government spending, and often arrived quicker than help from the state.

President Vladimir Putin, who ordered most Russians to stay home until the end of this month, has warned that the epidemic has yet to peak and is spreading deeper into the regions. Russia is near the top of the list of new cases in the world, adding 21,206 confirmed diagnoses in the past four days. 513 have died to date. The government has gradually ramped up spending on health and economic support programs as the virus and a historic crash in oil prices push the country toward recession.

Business owners “understand that public discontent is growing and they are making a down payment,” said Natalia Zubarevich, head of regional studies at Moscow’s Independent Institute for Social Policy. “They need to take care of the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

Coronavirus tests fly by private jet as Russia’s tycoons step up Bloomberg graphic. Click to expand

The measures tycoons are taking may help keep their businesses operational, according to Zubarevich. An outbreak could have a catastrophic impact, especially in Russia’s “monocities” — the one-company towns where about 10% of the population lives. While most aid is for medical needs, some has gone to providing small business a lifeline and meals for vulnerable populations.

In Apatity and the nearby Kirovsk, 87 cases have been diagnosed so far. But just 200 kilometers (124 miles) away, the town of Menkalinan has 367 infections, concentrated at a facility that builds equipment for Novatek PJSC. One of the construction companies there is suspending work while the workers’ camp is disinfected. That cluster makes up three-quarters of the cases in the Murmansk region.

Some companies — including billionaire Alexey Mordashov’s steelmaker Severstal PJSC and billionaire Vladimir Potanin’s MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC — are also paying out bonuses to keep production running smoothly amid the lockdown.

Business leaders were among the first proponents of instituting regional lockdowns. Cherepovets in the Vologda region, where PhosAgro and Severstal operate, was one of the first places in Russia to endorse self-isolation. The Murmansk region and Norilsk set up early restrictions intended to keep residents from leaving.

Company contributions:

* Potanin’s Nornickel is spending 10.5 billion rubles to prepare 4,000 beds in the regions where it works, as well as build a new hospital and laboratory.
* Mordashov’s Severstal is buying equipment for local hospitals and plans to start producing respirators.
* PhosAgro spent 500 million rubles on test kits, medical equipment and protective gear for doctors in the cities where it works.
* Gold miner Polyus PJSC, controlled by the Kerimov family, is co-investor in a 1 billion-ruble fund to help prevent the spread of the virus in Russia’s Far East.
* Oleg Deripaska is funding construction of three hospitals in the Irkutsk region.
* Victor Vekselberg is sending 50,000 express test kits to regions where his Renova Group holds assets.

More Billionaire Aid:

* Potanin’s charity fund donated 1 billion rubles to support businesses and non-government organizations.
* Alfa Group, whose co-owners include billionaire Mikhail Fridman, donated 1 billion rubles to Russia’s anti-coronavirus committee.
* Alisher Usmanov’s Mail.ru Group donated 1 billion rubles to support small and medium-sized businesses and he gave 2 billion rubles to hospitals and doctors.
* Vladimir Evtushenkov’s Sistema Group donated about 1 billion rubles, including funds to help develop test kits.
* Gennady Timchenko, whose holdings include gas producer Novatek and petrochemicals manufacturer Sibur Holding PJSC, pledged 1.3 billion rubles.
* Viktor Rashnikov, the main shareholder of Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel PJSC, has donated 500 million rubles to help hospitals and doctors near his steel plant.

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