French President Emmanuel Macron refused a Kremlin request that he take a Covid-19 test when he arrived to see Vladimir Putin this week, which was why he was kept at a distance from the Russian leader, sources in the French entourage told Reuters.
Observers were struck by images of Mr Macron and Mr Putin sitting at opposite ends of four-metre table to discuss the Ukraine crisis on Monday, with some diplomats suggesting the Russian president might be wanting to send a diplomatic message.
But the sources said Mr Macron had been given a choice: either accept a PCR test by Russian authorities and be close to Mr Putin; or refuse and abide by more stringent social distancing.
"We knew very well that meant no handshake and that long table but we could not accept that they get their hands on the president's DNA," one of the sources said.
The other source said Mr Macron took a French PCR test before departure and an antigen test done by his own doctor when in Russia.
"The Russians told us Putin needed to be kept in a strict health bubble," the second source said.
On Thursday, three days after Mr Macron and Mr Putin had their socially distanced meeting, the Russian leader received Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
The two men shook hands and sat close to each other, separated by a small coffee table.