(Adds ban on religious gatherings in St Petersburg)
By Tom Balmforth and Maria Kiselyova
MOSCOW, March 26 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he hoped Russia would defeat coronavirus in 2-3 months if it imposed tough measures, as authorities suspended international flights, ordered most shops in the capital to shut and halted some church services.
Russia reported 182 new coronavirus cases, its biggest one-day rise yet, bringing its official tally to 840.
Authorities in the capital and the region that surrounds it announced the closure of all cafes, restaurants and shops, apart from those selling food and medicine, beginning on Saturday and lasting at least until April 5.
Although the case load is still much lower than in many European countries, the mayor of Moscow told Putin on Tuesday that the real scale of the problem in the capital far exceeded official figures.
Putin, in a televised speech to the nation on Wednesday, unveiled new measures designed to slow the transmission of the virus, declaring next week a non-working week for many Russians and urging people to stay at home.
He discussed those moves at a televised meeting with entrepreneurs on Thursday.
“These are forced measures, they are temporary and forced. But they will be shorter, the more effective they are and frankly the tougher they are. Then this period will be reduced,” he said.
Addressing a businessman who said it might take 2-3 months for normal conditions to return, Putin added: “But when we finally get out of this situation, and we definitely will get out of it… I hope that will be even sooner than what you said.”
Authorities in Russia’s second biggest city, St Petersburg, banned religious gatherings until April 5, but said priests would still be allowed to go to their churches.
The government submitted legislation to parliament for review that would give it powers to declare an emergency across the country or in parts.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said his ministry was building 16 infectious diseases centres and planned to complete a first batch of eight by April 30 and the rest by May 16.
Under the airline restrictions, Russian flights will still be allowed to fly to other countries to bring Russian citizens back or if they are authorised by special government decisions, the government said on its website. (Additional reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Darya Korsunskaya and Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Nick Macfie and Peter Graff)