Russia’s official data showing a low rate of infections caused by the novel coronavirus underestimate the real scale of the disease outbreak in the country, a senior Russian official has warned Vladimir Putin. Addressing the Russian president on Tuesday during a televised meeting with senior officials about the pandemic, Sergei Sobyanin, a former presidential chief of staff and Moscow’s mayor since 2010, said that many coronavirus patients were simply not tested. He urged the Russian president to take more steps to slow down the spreading of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavuus.

The warning from one of the country’s most prominent officials clashes with the Kremlin’s official stance that the outbreak is under control and that drastic measures deployed in other countries are unnecessary. The rare dissenting voice has raised fears that large numbers of infected people could soon swamp the country’s hospitals. “The dynamics are high, a serious story is unfolding,” Mr Sobyanin told Mr Putin. “Furthermore, we see that quite a lot of people are at home, they are simply not tested.

“Those who came from abroad, who can afford it, they sit in their dachas, in apartments, in self-isolation, they feel good, and thank God let them be,” he added. “But really those who are sick: there are far more.” Russia’s government said on Tuesday it had registered 57 new confirmed cases, taking the official total to 495 in a country of 146m people. France, with roughly half the  population, has about 40 times that number, and  neighbouring Belarus has three times as many per capita.

“The fact is that the testing volume is very low, and the real picture, no one in the world knows,” Mr Sobyanin said. Russia’s deputy prime minister interjected that 163,000 tests had been administered.