MOSCOW - Russia’s government took additional measures to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus across the border from China, with a Kremlin task force announcing a quarantine location for at-risk patients just days after two cases were reported. Both of the infected are Chinese nationals living inside Russia.
“We’re all interested in the results of our fight with the new virus being as effective as possible,” President Vladimir Putin said while addressing the global outbreak during a working visit to the city of Cherepovets.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Echo of Moscow news radio that Putin was receiving regular updates from a government working group set up to prevent spread of the disease.
“All necessary measures are being taken,“ Peskov said when asked if Putin was satisfied with the task force’s efforts to date.
The comments came as a Russian Defense Ministry plane evacuated 80 people from the epicenter of the virus in Wuhan, China.
A second Russian military plane was reportedly en route late Tuesday to collect the roughly 70 people remaining, a group that, while mostly Russian, included citizens from neighboring Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine and Armenia.
In Moscow, Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova announced that those returning would undergo a mandatory two-week precautionary quarantine in Siberia’s Tyumen region. None of the evacuees, Golikova noted, were at this point showing symptoms.
Yet an official from a government consumer protection group was also quoted as saying that the Siberian medical facilities would be secured by fencing and patrolled by Russian National Guard, presumably to prevent escapes.
“People will live in their own rooms, without leaving them. All measures are necessary for biological safety,” said Svetlana Popova, a doctor with the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare. “Everything will be done according to the rules.”
Russians in Wuhan
The Tass news agency quoted Russian Embassy officials as saying 341 Russians were living in Wuhan, suggesting some Russians may not be immediately evacuated.
Meanwhile, new Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin — now in his third week on the job after Putin announced a government shake-up last month — announced that foreigners discovered to have the disease would be deported.
On Tuesday, Mishustin also postponed a high-profile global economic summit in Sochi until further notice because of the coronavirus.
Russia has also announced it would close travel routes in and out of China — with Russian flights now limited solely to the national Aeroflot carrier routes between Moscow and Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
Flights are limited to a sole terminal in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, providing a lone choke point for health officials to monitor people for coronavirus symptoms.
Some Russian charter companies had been offering additional air service routes — at least to Russian passengers. That caused outrage after the private Ural Airlines refused to honor tickets to 70 passengers from Central Asia attempting to board a flight out of Xian, about 800 kilometers from Wuhan, to Yekaterinburg. The company has since ceased offering the service.
The RBK daily newspaper also reported the government was considering a ban on export sales of medical masks. Stocks reportedly were low after a run on orders by consumers, since news of the coronavirus broke. Price hikes were also reported amid the deficit.
In St. Petersburg, a February 11 performance by a Chinese national opera and dance troupe at the city's famed Marinsky Theater was postponed until a “more favorable time.”
All these measures came atop previous efforts to essentially seal Russia’s 4,300-kilometer-border with China — with a ban on auto and foot traffic, as well as issuance of tourist visas to Chinese tourists introduced by the Kremlin last week.
Despite the measures, Russia’s Deputy Health Minister Sergei Krayevoy admitted his ministry had no choice but to hope for the best but prepare for “possible wide spread of the infection.”
Health Ministry officials also noted that the coronavirus threat coincided with flu season — a consistently serious risk to global health in any year.
Accordingly, two regions — Ulyanovsk and Samara — said they were closing schools and public events until week’s end amid a spike in flu.
Officials from both said coronavirus had not factored into the move.