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Press review: Forecasts on amendment voting date and West’s ‘concern’ over Kim’s health

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, April 22

Kommersant: Constitutional amendment vote possible in late June or early July

Russia’s nationwide vote on constitutional amendments, which was originally scheduled for April 22, could take place in late June or even in early July, Kommersant writes citing its sources. They noted that the lockdown restrictions across Russia might be in effect longer than in Moscow, where they could be eased in mid-May.

Meanwhile, a source close to the presidential administration told the paper that the discussion of the new date was ongoing. In turn, a source in the presidential administration itself noted that the Kremlin would like the vote to be held as soon as possible. If it is postponed until the autumn, the authorities will face the problem of combining it with Unified Election Day (September 13). According to Head of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova, the nationwide vote on the constitutional amendments cannot be held on that day, because these are two different procedures.

Gleb Kuznetsov, a member of the Board of Directors at the Expert Institute of Social Studies, who is studying the pandemic and its social impact, noted that neither Moscow, nor Russia in general should expect the restrictions to be lifted soon. "Based on other countries’ experience and common sense, we can assume that everything will be done slowly and gradually, with an eye on the possibility of new outbreaks. Countries lift restrictions at different times, because they did not enter the epidemic at the same time. Here everything started approximately in late March," the paper quotes him as saying.

He also stressed that restrictive measures in Russia’s regions would not necessarily be in effect longer than in Moscow. The expert is certain that the regional authorities will not underreport statistics for the sake of lifting restrictions. "It is impossible to hide a major outbreak in the Internet era," he said.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Key virologist weighs in on Russia’s COVID-19 situation

A group of Russian military doctors and civilian consultants, together with their Italian counterparts, have been fighting the coronavirus epidemic in Lombardy, Italy’s hardest hit region, for almost a month. Alexander Semenov, Deputy Director of the St. Petersburg Pasteur Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, who has just returned from Italy, elaborated on the prospects for preventing the so-called "European scenario" in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

He noted that all age groups were at risk during the epidemic, but forecasts are worse for elderly people, regardless of the country. "While most patients aged from 18 to 40 cope with the disease easily, it is always very dangerous for people aged 80 and over. The low proportion of elderly patients in our hospitals is the result of timely measures to limit contacts, which our pensioners comply with. They are much more disciplined than young people," he explained, adding that Italy imposed restrictions too late.

There are specific features related to the "behavior" of the virus in different parts of the world, because each population has its own genetics, he went on to say.

"However, genetics is not the only factor. Men tend to have a more severe form of the disease and die more often than women. Half of those who die from coronavirus have three or more chronic diseases. Diabetes and obesity are a substantial risk factor, along with obstructive pulmonary disease and cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, there are a few percent of cases when it is impossible to save patients who had no chronic pathologies," he emphasized.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Western media ramps up reporting on Kim Jong-un’s health

Western media reports keep asserting that the North Korean leader’s health condition has worsened, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. CNN, citing US intelligence services, claims that Kim Jong-un "is in grave danger after undergoing a previous surgery." This allegedly explains why the DPRK leader did not appear in public for a long time. What’s more, media outlets make forecasts about who might succeed Kim as North Korea’s leader.

The assumption that the DPRK leader may have some kind of heart problems is not totally unfounded. Despite his relatively young age (according to the most common version, he is 36 years old), Kim is overweight. According to media reports, he is also a heavy smoker. Finally, the current North Korean leader is genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease. Both his grandfather Kim Il-sung and his father Kim Jong-il died from that disease.

Konstantin Asmolov, Leading Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, dismissed attempts to predict who will be the next North Korean leader as pointless. The expert stressed to the paper that the media in democratic countries could write anything about the DPRK. These reports are very difficult to verify, because North Korea is a closed country.

"Of course, it cannot be ruled out that Kim Jong-un is sick, but that could be a less serious disease. He could, for example, hurt his leg, the way it happened in 2014," he said.

The fact that some North Korean leaders disappear and unexpectedly appear in public again some time later is typical of the DPRK. There were several cases when people whom the foreign media believed were repressed or dead eventually turned out to be alive. That shows that one should view news reports about Kim’s worsening health condition with a fair amount of caution.


Izvestia: Mass protests resume in Lebanon despite lockdown

People in Lebanon began to take to the streets amid the coronavirus pandemic despite the lockdown restrictions, which have been in effect for almost a month, Izvestia writes. Activists oppose corruption and the government’s inability to cope with the protracted economic crisis, the worst since the civil war when the country was in ruins. According to the World Bank’s data, over 45% of people in Lebanon live below the poverty line, while last September that figure stood at 33%.

So far, the unrest has had no adverse effect on the incidence of coronavirus in the country, but experts warn that worst may still be ahead.

Head of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies’ Center of the Near and Middle East Vladimir Fitin explained to Izvestia that the current situation in Lebanon is not so much the result of the pandemic, but the result of the policies pursued by the current government.

"The situation was very complex before the pandemic as well. Unlike in previous years, the protests that had raged in the country since October had nothing to do with religious affiliation. Both Sunnis, Shiites, people who adhere to the Druze beliefs and Christians took part in them. All of them were outraged by the state of affairs, unlimited corruption, unemployment, and the substantial drop in living standards. The pandemic helped stop mass protests for some time, but it was clear that this is not a solution to the problem, but just a delay," he said.

The IMF demands that the country embark on radical reforms, primarily regarding taxes, which will further impoverish the population, and that will trigger new protests, so the situation is almost hopeless, Fitin stressed.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Automotive industry may lay off half of workforce amid falling demand

Car sales in Russia may drop by 50% this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, the risk of massive layoffs at assembly and auxiliary enterprises is growing, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

According to data provided by the Boston Consulting Group, the sales of new cars and light commercial vehicles in Russia could drop by 20% by the end of the year in a best-case scenario and by 50% in the event of the worst-case scenario.

It is not improbable that this trend will result in a massive reduction of the workforce in the automotive industry. During the 2008-2009 crisis, the number of employees at Russian automobile factories and enterprises manufacturing components for assembly declined by almost one-third to 238 mln people, according to ASM Holding.

The shutdown of automotive industry enterprises in Europe has resulted in layoffs of more than 1 mln employees and production losses equivalent to 1.2 mln cars, the paper quotes Konstantin Avakyan, Deputy Department Director at AutoSpecCenter, as saying. "Russian manufacturers are likewise thinking about optimization by reducing staff or working hours," he said.

At the same time, government support for the automotive industry in the form of cancelling the utilization fee and re-introducing customs duties for the largest automobile concerns with localized production in Russia is aimed primarily at maintaining staff during the period of restrictions on the activities of enterprises, the expert stressed.


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