Russia has postponed a vote on constitutional change that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power, because of coronavirus concerns.
President Putin said the public vote – previously due to be held on April 22 – would be delayed until a “later date”.
The proposed changes include scrapping a ban on allowing Vladimir Putin to run for office again.
The changes have already been approved by parliament and Russia’s constitutional court.
They would give Vladimir Putin – who is serving his fourth presidential term and has dominated Russian politics for two decades – the right to serve two more consecutive terms.
Later on March 25, Russia confirmed the deaths of two people who had been diagnosed with the new coronavirus. According to Ria Novosti, the 88- and 73-year-olds had pre-existing conditions. Russia has a total of 658 cases.
President Putin said: “The absolute priority for us is the health, life and safety of people. Therefore I believe that the vote should be postponed until a later date.”
He also announced that Russians would not work next week “to slow the speed” of the infection.
However, the Russian leader warned that it was impossible to prevent any spread of the virus at all in Russia because of the country’s size.
The Russian economy was also under serious pressure because of the virus, he said.
During their week off, employees would continue to be paid and key services would continue, Vladimir Putin said.
The president also announced extended welfare support, including for families with children and those who had lost jobs.
Russia has already taken measures such as 14-day quarantine for people arriving from abroad, school closures and warning for elderly people in Moscow to self-isolate.
It has also stopped cultural and sporting events and closed gyms, theaters and nightclubs, although cafes and restaurants have been allowed to stay open.
Russia has so far stopped short of imposing the kind of lockdown seen in some European countries.
There have been more than 435,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Europe is now the center of the global outbreak.