Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week his country managed to stop the mass spread of coronavirus — and that the situation was “under control,” thanks to early and aggressive measures to keep more people from getting the disease.
Does Russia have coronavirus under control? According to information released by Russian officials, Putin’s strategy seems to have worked. The number of confirmed Russian coronavirus cases is surprisingly low, despite Russia sharing a lengthy border with China and recording its first case back in January.
The numbers are picking up, but Russia — a country of 146 million people — has fewer confirmed cases than Luxembourg, with just 253 people infected. Luxembourg, by contrast, has a population of just 628,000, according to the CIA World Factbook, and by Saturday had reported 670 coronavirus cases with eight deaths.
Russia’s early response measures — such as shutting down its 2,600-mile border with China as early as January 30, and setting up quarantine zones — may have contributed to the delay of a full-blown outbreak, some experts say.
A strong record on testing
“The director-general of WHO said ‘test, test, test,'” Dr. Melita Vujnovic, the World Health Organization’s representative in Russia, told CNN Thursday. “Well, Russia started that literally at the end of January.”
Vujnovic said Russia also took a broader set of measures in addition to testing.
“Testing and identification of cases, tracing contacts, isolation, these are all measures that WHO proposes and recommends, and they were in place all the time,” she said. “And the social distancing is the second component that really also started relatively early.”
Rospotrebnadzor, Russia’s state consumer watchdog, said Saturday that it had run more than 156,000 coronavirus tests in total. By comparison, according to CDC figures, the United States only picked up the pace in testing at the beginning of March, while Russia says it has been testing en masse since early February, including in airports, focusing on travelers from Iran, China, and South Korea.
That’s not to say there were no holes in Russia’s defenses. Russia didn’t start testing those arriving from Italy or other badly affected EU countries immediately, limiting its controls for arrivals from Europe to taking temperatures and imposing two-week quarantines. The majority of the coronavirus cases reported in Russia were brought from Italy, according to health officials.