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Russia Takes Measures to Combat SARS - 2003-05-07


There are no confirmed SARS cases in Russia, but the country shares a nearly 4,500 kilometer border with China, and leading Russian health officials say they are not taking any chances.

Russia's main sanitary inspector, Gennady Onishchenko, says officials are considering fully closing the Russian-Chinese border in the very near future because of the SARS threat. The disease originated in China, which also has the most cases of SARS.

Some sections of Russia's border with China are virtually closed and very strict limits have been placed on the movements of Chinese citizens into Russia, and Russians into China. Mr. Onishchenko acknowledges that closing the border would adversely affect Russia's economy, but he says that step may have to be seriously considered.

Russia is also introducing preventative measures, such as taking traveler's temperatures, for air and train passengers coming into Russia from China and other countries of Southeast Asia.

Though Russia has reported no confirmed cases of SARS, across the Russian Federation about 25 Russian and foreign patients are exhibiting symptoms of the flu-like disease. Russia says the 25 are being carefully monitored.

The head of Russia's state epidemiology, or infectious diseases, department, Galina Fyodorovna, says one of the biggest problems Russia faces in fighting the SARS threat is the large numbers of illegal foreign immigrants who routinely come to Russia in search of jobs.

Ms. Fyodorovna says the health ministry, together with the ministry of internal affairs, is currently trying to identify immigrants who are in Russia illegally. She says these measures will be intensified in the coming days.

Ms. Fyodorovna says doctors are already actively examining Asian salesmen and women, especially those who trade at Russia's popular Chinese and Vietnamese street markets.

She says Russian officials are also in close contact with government officials in neighboring countries in order to prevent the spread of SARS into other former Soviet Republics, especially those of Central Asia.

Ms. Fyodorovna also advised Russian citizens that protective masks are available to buy in any drug store. She said the mask, now commonplace in Asia, is a cheap protective device immediately available to one and all, especially those taking public transport.

Beginning Thursday, the Russian capital's sprawling metro system will once a week be disinfected by anti-viral sprays. Moscow's metro serves an estimated nine million passengers a day.

Meanwhile, Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, is expected to debate emergency funding for measures to combat SARS as early as next week, following the May Day holidays.