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#6 - JRL 7173
May 8, 2003
Russia closes border on the verge of SARS intrusion

As the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) continues in the neighboring China, Russian authorities take measures to prevent the deadly virus from intrusion by partially closing the Russo-Chinese border, disinfecting public transport and Chinese markets, and publishing special brochures on how to avoid contracting atypical pneumonia.

On Thursday Russias top sanitary official, Deputy Health Minister Gennady Onishchenko reported that the first "almost certain" case of the SARS virus in Russia has been detected in a hospital in Blagoveshchensk, in the far-eastern Amur Region which borders on China. The condition of a 25-year-old Denis Soinikov, who was admitted to a hospital earlier this month with flu-like symptoms, remains grave, Onishchenko said.

The young man, who has lived for almost a year in the far-eastern town frequented by Chinese shuttle traders, has undergone a series of tests, which proved that he is, most probably, suffering from atypical pneumonia. At the same time, the health official said, this was still not a final diagnosis, and more definitive results are expected later this week.

Nonetheless, authorities in the Amur Region on Thursday have moved to close the border with China, only allowing Chinese and Russian citizens to return to their home countries. Border checkpoints in Blagoveshchensk, Poyarkovo and Dzhalinda will not clear Chinese citizens into Russia, the press-service of the Amur Regions administration told Interfax. A large number of Chinese citizens, examined by doctors at the Blagoveshchensk checkpoint, had symptoms of various acute respiratory diseases.

Amur regional authorities also said they would arrange for mandatory medical checkups of Russian citizens returning from China. Those travelers will be placed under medical observation for a period of ten days following their return. Individuals accompanying cargoes arriving in the Amur region will also be examined by doctors, the regional authorities said.

The governor of another far-eastern region, Primorye, Sergei Darkin on Thursday imposed a ban on visa-free entry for Chinese citizens for 1 month.

A special SARS prevention task force set up in the Khabarovsk Region ruled on closing the regions borders for travelers showing SARS-like symptoms.

Earlier this week Gennady Onishchenko said he did not rule out that the Russo-Chinese border may be fully closed over the spread of SARS epidemics. We understand all the difficulties of this decision, especially where economics are concerned, Onishchenko said.

Russian health authorities also urged Russian schoolchildren and students who are now in China to return home without delay. Onishchenko said on Wednesday currently there are some 500 Russian students receiving education in the neighbouring country.

Meanwhile, in Moscow municipal authorities have moved to begin disinfecting the metro and other means of public transportation: buses, trolleybuses and trams aiming to prevent the outbreak. So far, no patients with SARS-like symptoms have been registered in the capital, however, thousands of travelers arrive in Moscow from all over the world every day, and local health authorities prefer to be on the safe side.

Moscows top health official Nikolai Filatov said Wednesday that henceforth the citys public transport would be completely disinfected once a week, beginning Wednesday night, during off-hours.

Russian Health Ministry opened a 24-hour hotline for alarmed residents to receive free consultations on SARS virus. Special brochures containing measures for preventing the disease have been published.

In the meantime, China said on Thursday five more people had died from SARS and another 146 were infected, taking the death toll in this country to 224 and the number of cases to 4,698. The Chinese Health Ministry said two of the new deaths were in Beijing, currently the hardest hit place in the world, along with 94 of the latest cases.

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