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Briefing by Head of the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare and Chief Sanitary Doctor Anna Popova

The briefing focuses on the current status of the coronavirus epidemic, recommendations regarding New Year’s festivities, coronavirus vaccination during the holidays and suspended flights to the UK.

Briefing by Head of Rospotrebnadzor Anna Popova

Question: Ms Popova, the first question, obviously,
concerns the coronavirus situation. What is the status as of the end of the

Anna Popova: The New Year’s holidays are only a week away.
Staying healthy during the holidays is extremely important to us.

What are the
epidemiological indicators as of the end of the year? Our daily incidence rate
is better than in a number of countries. The daily incidence rate is 18‒19
cases per 100,000 people, which is three, four or five times lower than in the
countries with high morbidity and where the number of daily cases is on the
rise forcing these countries to take extraordinary measures.

The incidence
rate in our country is currently slowing down and the numbers are stable. At
the same time, the situation varies from region to region. In some regions,
such as the Krasnodar Territory and Tatarstan, the daily incidence rate,
calculated as the daily average over a week per 100,000 people, is 2 to 3.
There are also regions with the incidence rate over 60. There are not many such
regions but the situation there is different and requires special measures.

November, the number of regions with an average growth rate (which is one of
our assessment criteria) over 1 percent, remained between 44 and 50. By the end
of November, there was an improvement. The prevalence rate, or the reproduction
ratio (Rt), which shows how many people can be potentially infected by one
infected person before he or she is isolated, has come down to 1. Currently,
this rate is 1 in 77 Russian regions, meaning that further spread is slowing
down. Only recently, the number of these regions was only 15 to 20. Now 77
regions have Rt equal to 1, which is another indicator showing that the
epidemiological situation in the country is improving.

Question: Ms Popova, could you please remind us what recommendations people
should follow in order to not get ill during the holidays?

Anna Popova: I would like to note that there are living people behind any
statistics. And, unfortunately, these people get ill and sometimes severely
ill. The main goal before and during the holidays is not to contract this
illness and avoid any risks that can affect your health. Therefore, we have
developed recommendations that can help people stay safe and not get infected
in various circumstances. We have been working hard on these recommendations
all year since spring to make it possible for various sectors of the economy to
continue operating and for various events to take place. Following these rules
and recommendations eliminates health risks. Of course, we realise that it is
not possible that during a pandemic there is not a single ill person in a
group. But the main purpose of all the measures we propose and develop is to
prevent further spread and make sure that morbidity in this group is limited to
one ill or infected person.

And we can see that following
all our rules carefully does help prevent the spread. Companies continue
operating. We completed a summer health improvement campaign when more than a
million children visited summer health resorts and there was not a single case
of the disease. There were no outbreaks at summer health resorts, which is also
a result of meticulously following our rules.

Similar rules were developed
for schoolchildren. They were first developed as recommendations for organising
teaching process rather than schoolchildren per se. And it should be noted that
classroom schooling, which resumed from 1 September (with a few exceptions in
special circumstances, when in-person classes were suspended), is, obviously,
justified and understandable. In neither of these cases there has been a spread
of infectious diseases in schools or in classes. It means that, when followed
strictly, these recommendations (or in some places, sanitary regulations)
protect people from coming into contact with this virus and getting ill.

We also developed
recommendations for the upcoming holidays. These are not requirements. They
will be interpreted in each particular region in accordance with the local
epidemiological situation. But I will specifically note several aspects.

What do we recommend? We
recommend limiting the number of participants of outdoor events to 50 people.
This means that outdoor gatherings should not involve too many people. Our task
is to make sure that people can’t contract the virus from each other. This is
the purpose of these recommendations.

Next. We believe that it would
be most efficient and safe to hold public events outdoors rather than indoors.
Skating rinks and slides should remain open. It is also important (and the
recommendations include this advice) that these leisure and sports centres operate
in a manner that allows people to maintain social distance in order to not get
infected. Therefore, the number of people using skating rinks and slides should
be small enough to prevent close contact. It is the organisers’ task to ensure
safety and let people enjoy outdoor activities and use skating rinks and
slides. These facilities should remain open but follow safety regulations. Locker
rooms or equipment rental offices should not be crowded. Proper organisation of
the process guarantees safe and enjoyable time at these outdoor facilities.

Earlier this year, we worked
with the business community to develop recommendations for all tourist
facilities and these recommendations have been in place up to this day. But we
also believe it is necessary to issue additional recommendations for the
holiday season. I should repeat that the regulations to prevent the spread of
the virus must be strictly followed when organising trips and events. Masks
must be worn where necessary. People should maintain social distance. Washing
hands and cleaning your skin and surfaces around you, using sanitisers is
important. Any travel increases the risks as we are less in control of the
situation and ourselves due to distractions. So it is very important to follow
all the measures to stay healthy.

I should mention public transport.
People will have more free time to move around. We recommend disinfecting
surfaces on public transport more frequently than usual because the passenger
traffic will be higher. Wearing masks is mandatory on public transport and in
public areas.

Shopping centres and stores
attract more people before and during the holidays. Additional daily cleaning
and disinfection throughout the day and by all means at the end of the workday
are mandatory at these facilities.

We recommend that food courts
close for complete disinfection every three hours because food courts are where
people mingle without masks and the risk of infection is, obviously, higher.

A great number of spa resorts
and hotels will be open during the holidays. We recommend organising all
festivities and especially crowded events outdoors to lower health risks for

All accommodation facilities
must conduct more thorough cleaning and disinfection. After every check-out,
rooms must be cleaned using steam generators and special equipment that will
make rooms completely safe for next guests.

It is very important to note
that the requirement to wear masks in public areas remains in place. It is not
a recommendation: it is a requirement. It was introduced by a resolution of the
Chief Sanitary Doctor in late October and remains mandatory. People are not
required to wear masks elsewhere but indoors, on public transport and at public
events masks must be worn.

I should also remind you that
in our country, a person may be fined for not wearing a mask in public places.
Of course, this money could be more useful somewhere else and could be spent on
gifts for the loved ones. Wearing masks where it is required also helps people
stay healthy. Therefore, once again, in Russia wearing masks in public areas,
indoors and on public transport is mandatory.

In general, the measures we
propose are advisory. Every constituent entity will decide whether they should
be mandatory depending on the local epidemiological situation. Again, the
situation varies from region to region. But wherever a recommendation becomes a
requirement, it must be strictly complied with.

So, this is what the new or updated rules are for
the holiday season. 

Question: Ms Popova, will the work
schedule of coronavirus testing laboratories change during the New Year holidays?

Anna Popova: It is very important to
understand that medical tests are the main method for detecting patients who
are ill or are the source of infection despite their lack of symptoms. I would
like to raise the following issue in this connection. Holidays are a high-risk
period; consequently, people suffering from any illness or complication have to
stay at home, and protect themselves and their families from possible
infection. And, of course, they should seek medical assistance. Tests, as well
as clinical symptoms, which can be assessed only by doctors, are the main
indicators today. All the Rospotrebnadzor laboratories will work overtime
during the holidays. We have not only kept their usual working hours, we have
extended them, so that everyone will be able to undergo tests in line with medical
appointments, so that we will not overlook a single case.

the Russian Federation ranks among the three leading countries in terms of the
number of tests per 100,000 of the population. Naturally, we are maintaining
this level, and we aim to increase the number of tests and the number of people
who have been tested.

962 laboratories, including 111 Rospotrebnadzor laboratories, 651 laboratories at
medical organisations and 200 commercial laboratories, are conducting PCR
COVID-19 tests. They will remain open, and this will allow Russian citizens to
be screened even during the holidays.

is very important to note that, quite recently, we required these laboratories
to send test results to patients within 48 hours following the receipt of test
materials. Most of them are meeting this requirement, and we are keeping a
fairly tight control over this process. In the last seven days, almost 99
percent of tests were completed on time. Obviously, some of them were not
completed on schedule. One should keep in mind that the 48-hour period starts
right after a laboratory has received the test sample and ends after the
patient has learned the final result.

are also test sample delivery deadlines, and we insist that these deadlines be
minimised; today, we cooperate with everyone involved in this process.  However, some Russian regions are really
huge, and a number of them are 3,000 km long, with their remote municipalities
and communities lacking permanent communications. Of course, there are some objective
reasons here. Unfortunately, we can also see a number of violations. Although
they account for just one percent, this amounts to quite a lot. Those guilty of
such violations assume administrative responsibility. We consider this to be
unacceptable. Our colleagues in Russian regions understand this.

have a phone-in service for anyone requesting explanations, and we handle many
such calls. People complain of unlawful actions or delayed tests in certain
laboratories, regardless of their form of ownership. Telephone numbers are
posted on the websites of regional Rospotrebnadzor directorates and on our
website, too.

joint Rospotrebnadzor call centre has been operating for quite a long time, and
I believe that its telephone number has long been well-known to many people: 8 (800) 555-49-43.

Since January 2020, our call centre has handled
almost 3.5 million different requests, linked with the coronavirus pandemic. It
will function 24 hours a day over the entire holiday season. People can call
anytime and request assistance or demand that something be done at regional

If you allow me, I would like to say a few words
about the situation that has been developing since Saturday night, 19 December,
when a new virus strain was detected. I believe that this is important. This
information caused numerous alarmed responses and discussions. Here is an
update on the situation. We are closely following the publications of our
colleagues in the United Kingdom and other European Union countries. We keep
tabs on the virus situation all over the Russian Federation. The reference
centre of the Vektor Research Centre, which is listed by the World Health
Organisation as a diagnostic centre, monitors the pathogen of the new
coronavirus infection and has every reason to say that an extensive survey of
viruses in all Russian regions shows that this mutation has not been detected
anywhere in Russia so far.

We know for sure that Russian vaccines, which
have a structure that includes conservative and virtually unchanged coronavirus
protein sections, are also effective against this virus strain that is now
being so actively discussed in the world. And I can only welcome all those who
have already been vaccinated or those who are planning to do this on New Year’s
Eve or during the holiday season because all vaccination centres will be open.
I believe that this decision is quite correct. The Russian Federation ranks
among those few countries providing this opportunity, and people should use
this chance, no matter what.

Regarding the new virus strain, we are following
the EU response closely. Although they have been conferring for the past few
days, no official position has been voiced so far. We are following comments by
the World Health Organisation and its Regional Office for

Today, they are holding a meeting on this matter
at the WHO Regional Office for Europe. A decision was made to suspend air traffic to and
from the United Kingdom, as long as the discussion is underway, and while
colleagues are looking for an optimal solution. This preventive measure aims to
protect the health of the people of the Russian Federation. We will decide on
subsequent action after reaching a full understanding. In the meantime, this
measure remains in force and facilitates the safety of the population of the Russian

I would like to note before
the New Year that health is, of course, the best gift. This year was rather
complicated, and it is very important that people comply with all the recommendations
and requirements that we have been mentioning for almost 12 months, in order to
remain healthy.

I would like to sincerely wish
my dear fellow Russian citizens a Happy New Year and also wish them health,
prosperity and well-being. Please stay healthy and improve your health. Happy New Year!


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