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Russia steps up checks at borders, airports to block Chinese virus spread

Sheremetyevo airport. Moscow, Russia (Zac Allan/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia says it is stepping up checks at borders and airports to prevent the spread of a new virus from China that has killed at least six people and reached areas in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and now has seen the first case reported in the United States.

Russian authorities have “taken additional measures to reinforce sanitation and quarantine control in points of passage through the Russian border,” the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) said on January 21.

It said staff members will isolate people suspected of being infected with the coronavirus and that clinics have prepared to receive patients.

Russia shares a border of more than 4,200 kilometers with China, and some 1.5 million Chinese tourists visit each year.

Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport told AFP that additional sanitation-control measures would be used to screen passengers on flights from China, with heat scanners used to measure passengers’ body temperature while they are still on the arriving plane.

“In case of elevated temperature, a medical team is immediately called to the plane,” Sheremetyevo said.

It added that no cases have been detected so far, but if a coronavirus infection is suspected, “the passenger is immediately isolated in a special room and hospitalized in a specialized medical facility for an evaluation.”

Russian officials also cautioned citizens against visiting Wuhan in central China where the new virus first emerged. It urged them to avoid markets with live animals or zoos, to drink only bottled water, and to wear face masks.

Other countries have also taken precautions against the spread of the virus, including Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States.

In the northwestern U.S. city of Seattle, health officials on January 21 reported what is believed to be the first case of a person being diagnosed with the virus after returning to the United States from China.

Officials said a 30-year-old man who had traveled to the Wuhan area had no symptoms when he arrived in the United States, but that he contacted doctors on January 19 after he began to feel ill. They said the man is in good condition at a hospital and is not considered a threat to medical staff or the public.

The discovery came after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on January 18 said it would begin screening at three U.S. airports — San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York — of passengers arriving from central China

Meanwhile, Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, told reporters on January 21 that three weekly direct flights from Wuhan to Sydney will be met by border security and biosecurity staff for assessment.

However, Murphy acknowledged the measures would only offer “limited protection” because the incubation period “is probably a week.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called an urgent meeting for January 22 to discuss the crisis and determine whether the outbreak is an international health emergency.

Doctors began seeing the newly identified coronavirus — which brings on pneumonia symptoms including fever, cough, and breathing problems — in people who worked at or visited a food market in the suburbs of Wuhan, in central China, late last month.