Chechen and Russian officials remain tight-lipped about the condition or whereabouts of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a day after news reports said he had been hospitalized in Moscow for possible coronavirus infection.
If confirmed, Kadyrov would join the list of several other prominent Russian officials, including Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who have been infected with the virus.
Interfax and RIA-Novosti cited unnamed medical officials on May 21 as saying that Kadyrov, 43, had been flown to a Moscow facility and was under medical supervision.
The Telegram channel Baza reported that Kadyrov was taken by plane to "one of the best clinics in Moscow" on May 21, after he showed symptoms of an acute respiratory viral infection.
Earlier, the head of Grozny TV, which is controlled by Chechen regional authorities, insisted that Kadyrov was still in control, though he did not explicitly deny the reports on the Chechen leader's hospitalization.
Kadyrov "is personally in control of the situation, he is taking all necessary measures. The work of his headquarters is under his personal control," Akhmed Dudayev said in a video posted to his Instagram account.
'A Hostage Of His Image'
Kadyrov has sought to project an air of authority amid the coronavirus pandemic. As of May 21, Chechnya had officially reported 1,046 confirmed cases, and 11 fatalities from the disease.
Recently, he lashed out at complaints that regional medical workers lacked masks and other proper equipment to protect them against infection.
Grigory Shvedov, editor of the news site Caucasian Knot, said medical workers, who are normally fearful of the authoritarian Kadyrov, have grown more fearful of the coronavirus, and were speaking out more frequently.
Shvedov explained that the silence surrounding Kadyrov's condition was due in large part to the fact that falling ill would undermine the strongman image he has projected.
"Ramzan Kadyrov is a hostage of his image, that he is strong, he can do anything, that there are no problems. Therefore, even if he is sick -- God grant him health -- if he is sick, he does not talk about it," he told Current Time.
The reports about Kadyrov come as authorities in Chechnya and neighboring Daghestan ratchet up restrictions to deter people from gathering in groups this weekend to celebrate the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan.
Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov said that all movements, except for emergency services, would be banned for three days beginning May 23.
In Daghestan, authorities announced a lockdown on two major cities; officials in the regional capital, Makhachkala, had not yet taken similar measures.
Live Map: The Spread Of The Coronavirus
Russia has the second-highest total of reported COVID-19 cases, after the United States.
The Russian case tally rose to 326,448 on May 22, while the death toll climbed to 3,249.
Russian officials have been accused of lowering its coronavirus mortality rates by ascribing deaths to pneumonia.
Aside from Mishustin and Peskov, Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova, and Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev have also tested positive for the disease.
Peskov, as of May 21, remained hospitalized.