For weeks, Russia seemed to have dodged a bullet. As coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) raged just across the border in China, Russia was virtually untouched, reporting just seven confirmed infections as recently as 10 March. Since then, the number has risen fast: Russia has now reported 840 infections, about two-thirds of them in the Moscow region.
Some health care providers have questioned whether Russia truly kept the novel coronavirus at bay. Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of Russia’s Alliance of Doctors trade union, has pointed out that pneumonia cases in Moscow spiked in January—they were 37% higher than in January 2019, according to Rosstat, Russia’s statistics agency. She asserts that COVID-19 must have accounted for at least part of the increase. Others attribute the increase to a greater number of pneumonia patients, anxious about the new coronavirus, seeking treatment.
With COVID-19 cases now indisputably on the rise in Russia, authorities are moving fast to ramp up detection and hospital bed capacity. Russia’s federal coronavirus coordination council says 193,000 tests based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) have been done to date. Swabs initially had to be shipped to Siberia for analysis at the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR. Russia’s Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor)—the country’s analog of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—has just expanded testing to its regional laboratories and the Anti-Plague Research Institute.