Russia sends military virologists to Italy to battle coronavirus

Eight medical teams will bring ventilation and other much needed equipment.

On March 23, Russian military aircraft delivered eight teams of virologists and medical equipment for the treatment of coronavirus patients, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced.

The MoD explained that the aircraft will deliver to Italy eight teams of Russian military virologists and doctors, aerosol disinfectants for vehicles and premises, as well as vital ventilation machines.

According to the MoD, the doctors will visit "the worst-hit areas of the country." As such, Russian specialists and hardware have been delivered to Italy’s Pratica di Mare air base, which is located 30 km south-west of Rome.

The latest data indicate that Italy has surpassed China by number of coronavirus victims, and ranks first by number of infections in Europe — around 60,000 recorded cases, with more than 5,400 deaths.

Earlier on Saturday, March 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a telephone conversation with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, confirmed Moscow’s readiness to provide urgent vital assistance.

Who was sent and why

The Russian army has a special unit of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) protection troops. The division was set up to conduct clean-up operations after the use of weapons of mass destruction, and to treat viruses and epidemics that could impact frontline Russian troops.

“Among those going to Italy are people who fought the Ebola epidemic in Africa. They have experience of crisis situations,” Dmitry Safonov, former military analyst for Izvestia newspaper, told Russia Beyond.

In his words, the specialists are taking with them cutting-edge medical equipment that was unveiled at the Army-2018 and Army-2019 military exhibitions outside Moscow.

“Only the US and the UK have anything similar to Russia’s NBC troops. The Americans and British are now treating patients in their own countries. And since the situation with coronavirus in Russia is not as critical as in Europe or the US, we can help our comrades abroad,” he added.

Decrypting the “European” coronavirus genome

Besides helping patients, Russia is looking to obtain the “European” coronavirus genome so as to prepare for the spread of the pandemic back home.

“We already have the ‘Chinese’ coronavirus genome, and doctors are working on a vaccine to treat it. As soon as medics have a full picture of what’s happening on the ‘western front,’ they will be able to make an antidote for it a lot quicker,” concluded Safonov.

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