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Meeting with Tatyana Golikova and Anna Popova

April 23, 2021, The Kremlin, Moscow

Vladimir Putin had a meeting, via videoconference, with Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova and Head of the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare [Rospotrebnadzor] Anna Popova to discuss the current coronavirus situation in Russia.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon colleagues, Ms Golikova, Ms Popova.

A couple of days ago you watched the annual Address to the Federal Assembly. It was largely concerned with the coronavirus and the efforts against it, or rather ways to overcome its negative consequences in the social sphere and the economy.

We agreed to continue closely monitoring our efforts in this sphere, which is of crucial importance today. Therefore, I would like you to report on the current developments in the fight against the coronavirus.

Ms Golikova, please.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

The Russian Federation Government, the Coordination Council chaired by the Prime Minister, and the Emergency Response Centre, together with regional agencies, are monitoring the coronavirus developments in Russia and beyond it on a daily basis in order to regulate its entry into the country to prevent any spikes in the incidence of the disease.

The situation differs from one region to another. A decline has been reported in 16 regions, 62 regions are in the stabilisation stage, and the number of coronavirus cases is growing in seven regions.

During the past month, the average daily number of tests was 204 per 100,000 people. However, I would like to point out that changes in the average number of tests have been reported in several regions during the past week.

I would like to use our meeting today to address the regions so they comply with the required standard – at least 200 per 100,000 people, which was approved long ago and which we have observed. It is essential to comply with this regulation to identify new cases on time and to provide these patients with the necessary assistance.

As for the number of reserve hospital beds across the country, it is quite sufficient. As of now, we have over 109,000 hospital beds, which is barely one-third of the number of beds we had during the peak periods. As many as 23,000 beds are connected to ventilators and 83,000 to oxygen supply. I would like to add that 28 percent of the already reduced number of hospital beds remain vacant now.

I would like to say a few words about the vaccination process, which is in full swing across the country. Over the entire period, 27.9 million dose sets have been produced, including 15 million sets already released to healthcare facilities. A vaccine that is currently under quality control accounts for the remaining amount, because, as you know, the law sets an extremely high bar when it comes to quality.

Almost 5,500 vaccination centres are operating across the country. More than 11.1 million people have received their first dose as of today, and 6.8 million people have received both doses.

I would like to note that we have repeatedly drawn the attention of the regional authorities to the fact that citizens aged over 60 and citizens suffering from chronic conditions or subject to regular medical check-ups due to their health must have access to the vaccine on a priority basis.

This group accounts for 47 percent of the entire number of people who got vaccinated. However, in some regions this percentage is lower. Therefore, I would like to address our colleagues once again and stress that they should give maximum attention to this category of vaccine recipients because they are more vulnerable and at risk of severe cases.

Also, I would like to point out that several of the seven regions who are still increasing their vaccination rollout have rather low vaccination rates. For example, Smolensk Region rates 53rd among the Russian regions. I would like our colleagues to note that this region has sufficient vaccine supplies and they need to expedite this process accordingly.

Despite the fact that the statistics I have just quoted show that the situation is more or less stable, as I have mentioned, we are monitoring it on a daily basis. April and May are considered unstable months in terms of seasonal respiratory infections, parainfluenza, and other outbreaks. Last year, as you may recall, we experienced seasonal morbidity along with a rise in coronavirus cases.

I would like to say that we have advised the Russian regions to proceed very carefully with regard to lifting restrictions and to maintain these restrictions based on the local epidemiological situation and local incidence rate. Obviously, they should also encourage people to get vaccinated. Mr President, you paid great attention to this matter in your Address to the Federal Assembly and Russian citizens two days ago. Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage our citizens to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe and efficient and it will help achieve herd immunity in Russia.

Thank you, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Ms Popova, please, you have the floor.

Head of the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare Anna Popova: Mr President,

We are closely monitoring the situation with the coronavirus in the Russian Federation and other countries, actually in the entire world.

I would like to point out once again that the situation with COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) is currently stable in Russia. As Ms Golikova has mentioned, during the past few weeks we reported a decrease in the number of new cases. The coronavirus incidence rate went down by 13 percent a week in March, but the figure has been below 1 percent during the past three weeks. There has been practically no change, and we have come to a standstill in some regions. The new trend points to the situation possibly becoming more complicated.

We have stepped up the efforts of our epidemiologists in the hotbed areas. As of now, medics are monitoring 930,000 people who have had contact with COVID-positive individuals who are under medical surveillance. This is a large number. There are four contacts per one infected person; that is the average for the reference strain which has been around for over a year.

As Ms Golikova pointed out, we are closely monitoring the situation with acute respiratory infections. There has not been any dynamic, either positive or negative, during the past three weeks. This is a feature of the season, actually.

The monitoring of the respiratory virus landscape we have been conducting since last August shows that the rhinovirus is dominating, while parainfluenza accounts for a large number of cases, alongside a comparable number of seasonal coronavirus infections that are not COVID-19 but are from the same family. The share of these cases is quite considerable as well.

Our scientists are very closely monitoring international information regarding the new mutated versions of the novel coronavirus. They represent a high risk, as all of us know. Therefore, three of our research agencies are analysing the information they receive from all possible sources.

I would like to note that last week five more countries have recorded the British strain, which in the opinion of our foreign colleagues is more contagious. In all, 137 countries now say that the British strain is circulating on their territory, and 85 states claim that they have recorded the South African strain. These five states have been added in the past seven days. And the Brazilian strain is recorded in 52 countries.

As per your instruction, the Russian Federation is conducting a thorough molecular-genetic monitoring survey regarding the actual spread of the new strains.

Today, we have thoroughly studied over 12,000 samples of clinical materials. We are working with materials from all 85 regions, and we have defined criteria for thoroughly studying these materials on a mandatory basis.

Every week, we detect more and more isolates. In the past seven days, we have recorded 255 versions of the British strain and 25 of the South African strain. We have located these strains in 51 regions. Actually, they are quite widespread.

I would like to note that most of these versions arrived from abroad, that is, when people return from other countries. In all cases, we implemented the entire range of essential measures, but we are working much more actively with these patients’ contacts. I can say that these people did not bring any severe cases here, but we observe 23 contacts per one infected person, so as to prevent the disease from spreading.

We have decided to suspend air traffic with the Republic of Turkey and Tanzania in order to prevent the further “importation” of these strains and their possible spread in the Russian Federation. In accordance with what you said in your Federal Assembly Address, we have strengthened sanitary-quarantine control on the border. This control has become much more substantial. We have increased the number of tests for everyone returning from abroad, and we have established tight control at all types of checkpoints, including aviation, maritime, land, vehicle and pedestrian checkpoints.

This range of measures makes it possible to prevent any snowballing of pandemic or the further large-scale spread of mutated viruses.

Based on the entire scope of our knowledge about the epidemiological situation in Russia, today we can suggest that there are currently no particularly dangerous tendencies. Of course, this should remain true subject to full compliance with all the current requirements, as you also mentioned. Yes, people are tired, but masks, social distancing, disinfection, and other requirements must be observed even as the weather is getting warmer.

Mr President, a meeting of the WHO International Health Regulations Emergency Committee was held this week, which came to the conclusion that, in view of what is happening around the world, the COVID-19 emergency status is still relevant and must be extended for another quarter. The WHO’s position here is absolutely clear. A representative of Rospotrebnadzor, who is a permanent representative to this committee, also took part in the meeting.

Looking back on the experience of the past year and knowing our habits and traditions related to the May holidays, we understand that when people travel to the country to spend time outdoors, it results in more intensive migration. The majority of Russians travelling outside the city use public transit, which is often overcrowded. It is good they are going to the country to breath fresh air. It is really helpful for curbing the epidemic. But this year, we have a long weekend followed by four working days followed by another long weekend. People will be travelling back and forth. In this situation, considering the fact that people will be moving around and sharing contagious agents with a great number of contacts, there are certain risks.

We consulted with Ms Golikova, our colleagues, scientists and medical professionals, epidemiologists and chief sanitary doctors in the regions. Our colleagues agreed with our proposal that the long holidays in May should be uninterrupted. It would help make the epidemiological prognosis more stable. We should give people the opportunity to spend time outdoors because people are really hoping for a break and I think everybody would be happy to get it. As far as the epidemiological status is concerned, it would be a very important decision for further stabilisation. I really do hope that you will support us.

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Popova, I have said on numerous occasions that I will urge all colleagues at the federal and regional levels to listen to the opinion of our specialists, the virologists and those who not just understand these matters professionally but who have been fighting infections, especially during the past year when they received diverse and detailed information about COVID-19. If you believe that this is necessary, we will do so, and I will sign a relevant executive order today.

I have a question for you: which of the strains that have been, unfortunately, identified in Russia as well are the most dangerous? How effective are our vaccines against these strains? I have heard various views on this matter, of course, but I would like to hear your opinion once again today, considering that more practical information becomes available every day.

Anna Popova: Thank you.

Mr President, we have conducted a detailed analysis of the British strain, which we received late last year, at the Vektor Centre and are now aware of all its properties. We are also exchanging information with our colleagues at other research institutions. We also received and thoroughly analysed the South African strain. The first thing I would like to say is that neither strain is particularly stable in the environment, which is immensely important for us. They are sensitive to all disinfectants and can survive on surfaces for no more than 48 hours, and even less in some cases. In this sense they are no different from the reference strain we have.

It is believed that the UK variant spreads a bit faster than the ordinary strain. However, our research has not produced any proof of this. But based on the experience and knowledge of our colleagues in other countries, we can assume that it does spread more easily, that it has this feature. This is why we increase the number of contact persons when we come across these strains.

Foreign publications about the South African variant show that in some cases it can elude an immune response from prior infection in persons with a low level of immunity. Such research has been conducted, and we can see this. Our research has shown that high titres can protect you from this strain as well. Neither has our research detected any specific features of this strain in terms of post-vaccination immunity. Our conclusion is that Russian vaccines can protect people from all the coronavirus variants we are currently aware of.

We are continuing our research. We will certainly report to you if we learn anything new, and we will also inform the public. So far, this is what we know.

Vladimir Putin: And do our test systems detect every type of strain?

Anna Popova: Yes, Mr President. We have checked this element of our research project that shows how test systems detect additional new strains. All Russian test systems are involved. First of all, when a new strain appears, we ask the manufacturers together with our colleagues from other agencies, and first of all the manufacturers guarantee this. At the same time, we conduct systemic research and assess the operations of all the test systems, and we can find out whether they detect all new strains.

So far, we have detected no mutated virus fragments that can bypass the test systems or suppress post-vaccination immunity levels. Apart from the above-mentioned mutations, including the British strain, the South African strain and the Brazilian strain, there are very many mutations, and their total number is incredible. To be honest, researchers have to single out significant and insignificant strains.

We can also see a lot of changes in the Russian Federation. But such is the property of the virus, it lives and it must change. So far, we can see no changes in the Russian Federation that could influence its epidemiological specifications, including those mentioned by you, such as the ability to bypass tests and post-vaccination immunity and to become more contagious. There have been no such observations to date. But we continue this highly systemic work.

I would like to say once again that our tests can see viruses circulating in the Russian Federation, as well as reference and mutated samples. Immunity levels provided by Russian vaccines protect against all the strains now present in the Russian Federation that I have already mentioned, including reference and mutated strains now circulating in the Russian Federation.

Vladimir Putin: Good, thank you very much.

Please keep me informed. I know that you are in control of the situation, and that sufficiently intensive work is proceeding all over the Russian Federation. I wish you every success once again. Please convey my best wishes to all your colleagues, and I am expecting regular reports from you, as the situation develops.

Thank you.

April 23, 2021, The Kremlin, Moscow