Factory and construction workers in Russia were set to return to work on Tuesday after President Vladimir Putin ordered a gradual easing of coronavirus lockdown measures despite a sharp increase in new cases of the novel virus.

Putin, in a surprise announcement on Monday, said it was time after six weeks to lift nationwide restrictions that had forced many people to work from home and businesses to temporarily close.

He made the announcement on a day when Russia overtook Italy to become the country with the fourth-highest number of cases in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Leeway to ease or tighten the restrictions

Russia
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Although he gave wide leeway to Russia's regions to ease or tighten restrictions as they saw fit, he said it made sense for certain sectors of the bruised economy such as construction and heavy industry to be allowed to restart work from Tuesday.

Most Russian regions have been on lockdown since late March in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The overall case tally rose to 232,243 on Tuesday with 2,116 deaths.

Other countries have yet to update their own tallies, but Russia was likely later on Tuesday to move further up the league table of countries with the highest number of infections.