'The virus has mutated very well': What Russian doctors say about the new infection

Ramil Sitdikov/Sputnik
Russia is busy preparing for a mass spread of COVID-19. Apparently, things will get worse before they get better. Here is what the country's doctors say about the mutating virus.

Russia currently has 199 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with the number of deaths at 0. The figures are not as scary as those for China or Italy. Yet, every day, the number of confirmed cases rises by several dozen people. Customers are stockpiling buckwheat, toilet paper and sanitizers, travellers returning from trips abroad self-isolate for two weeks, while hospitals are preparing to mobilize in the event of an emergency. 

Russia Beyond spoke to Russian doctors about the pandemic and how long all this will last.

"It is a lie, children do get infected" – Sergey Butry, a pediatrician with the Rassvet Clinic, author of popular Telegram blog "Notes of a Children's Doctor": 

"COVID-19 lasts longer than a common acute respiratory viral infection (ARVI), two to three weeks, and sometimes leads to overwhelming pneumonia – it is only then that medical intervention, hospitalization, artificial ventilation, and the other things you are afraid of, become necessary. Here the rule is simple: if you start experiencing shortness of breath, urgently see a doctor. There are no effective drugs or strategies that can reduce the risk of shortness of breath with COVID-19.

There is rumor that children do not get COVID-19 at all, and that they do not present a danger for the elderly. It is a lie, [children] do get sick, albeit in a milder form and less often. From an epidemiological point of view, with any disease, it is asymptomatic carriers or carriers with very mild symptoms that present the most danger (since others do not protect themselves from them). According to recent research, up to 10 percent of all COVID-19 cases come from asymptomatic carriers. Add to this the habit of hugging and kissing children, children's low hygiene skills - and you will arrive at the conclusion that children may well be more dangerous for the elderly than adults. I would recommend limiting as much as possible children's contacts with their grandparents, to protect the latter. In other words, fear for one's children should be the last thing right now."

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"There is nothing interesting or frightening in this virus" – Andrey Besedin, a GP at Moscow's GMS Clinic:

"The coronavirus is fairly active in the human body. At the very start of the epidemic, we very much hoped that the possibility of person-to-person transmission would be very slight. However, the virus has proven that it has mutated very well and occupied its niche.

It will continue marching across the planet for many years to come: it will become seasonal and join a cohort of classic seasonal viruses. Its siblings account for about 10 percent of the total number of upper respiratory tract infections in a population in a season. But we do not quarantine anyone [because of them]. COVID-19 is a common upper respiratory tract virus. There is nothing interesting or frightening in it. Yes, it causes mortality in the elderly and seriously ill. But the outbreak that we saw in China had nothing extraordinary in it. Fewer than 100,000 infected people in a city with a population of 20 million. Some 81 percent of all infections pass with almost no symptoms, or with mild manifestations of an ARVI. 

Currently (and this is something to be proud about), the speed of research into and understanding of the pathogenesis of this coronavirus infection is the fastest growing and most responsive scientific field in the world! Consider the amount of information that we received in less than three months... For many infections, it takes years to collect a similar amount of information. Personally, I doubt the prospects of creating a vaccine against coronavirus. Research is underway. Both China and the USA are actively working on it, but, unfortunately, we do not have a single confirmed result of a vaccine created against similar viruses of the same subtype. For the time being, is technically impossible."

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"Only totalitarian regimes will be able to combat this epidemic" – Fyodor Katasonov, a paediatrician and blogger:

"It is too early to say that the novel coronavirus may become a seasonal one, but it is very likely. The pandemic will end if there are no susceptible people left or if it is contained. The latter is unlikely given its contagiousness (the only hope is a vaccine), but the former is far from certain either because, as far as we know, coronavirus does not create live-long immunity. After a seasonal dip caused by hot weather and ultraviolet rays, which coronavirus is averse to, the epidemic may reoccur.

It may well be that the epidemic can be combated for real only in totalitarian regimes, where you will get shot if not for getting infected (as fake news reports from North Korea), then for violating the curfew. Strictly organized China has coped with the epidemic with a bang: 3,000 deaths in a population of 1.3 billion - this is a tremendous success. I am not sure that this can be replicated in liberal systems, where there is more respect for human rights. 

As for mortality, the novel coronavirus is so far more dangerous than seasonal flu in all age groups above the age of 10. However, among patients under 50, mortality is still below 1 percent. Most likely, the figure will be even lower once the peak is over and new means of fighting the infection have been found. Mortality from COVID-19 is likely to come even closer to that of seasonal flu. The Spanish Flu epidemic (which was caused by the same H1N1 influenza A virus as the 2009 swine flu and as most of seasonal flu every year) was much more dangerous than the novel coronavirus."

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"The city must be locked down" – Denis Protsenko, chief physician of Moscow's Kommunarka hospital, where most of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases are being treated:

"We have patients older than 65, but their disease is not severe. Moscow does not have a single patient on artificial ventilation. Nine people are in intensive care, but they are not in a critical condition.

We do not know when the epidemic will peak. We are just doing our job, in which nothing changes. It is fashionable now to criticize the healthcare system, but we have a well-functioning team. I admire my doctors, they work overtime, there are volunteers coming to the hospital. The media must put an end to this hysteria: the panic gets in the way, because of it, people turn to clinics for no good reason, thus using up resources.

There is no need for healthy people to wear masks - they do not help. Our doctors use FFP2 respirators together with a protective suit that covers the whole body. Wearing a mask like this on the street would only create more hysteria in people. A mask alone will not prevent the virus from spreading, only self-isolation will. As a doctor, I am in favor of closing the city. The question is how much it would cost. The question is where it would become excessive."

Read more: Head doctor of Moscow's main COVID hospital answers key questions about the coronavirus

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