Scientists from Russia and China are ramping up efforts to develop a vaccine against a deadly virus known as coronavirus, which originated in China and has killed at least 170 people as of Thursday.
According to the Russian consulate in Guangzhou, Beijing has handed over the genome of the virus, which has already infected roughly 6,000 people worldwide, to Moscow to begin joint work on a vaccine.
“The Chinese side handed over the virus genome to the Russian Federation, which allowed our scientists to rapidly develop express-tests that make it possible to identify the virus in the human body within two hours,” TASS quoted the consulate as saying on Wednesday. “The Russian and Chinese experts have begun developing a vaccine.”
The new virus, also known as Wuhan coronavirus 2019-nCoV, has dominated news headlines since late December, when it started spreading from the Chinese city of Wuhan – the epicenter of the outbreak – to Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and the United States. Although over 90 cases outside of China have been confirmed, no deaths abroad have been reported.
Russian authorities have been in talks with Chinese officials about evacuating nationals from Wuhan and Hubei province, in which Wuhan is located and where most of the cases of the virus have been reported.
“Currently, the Russian embassy in China is working with the Chinese authorities on evacuating citizens from the epicenter of the epidemic in Hubei province,” reads the statement. “Being in this area poses a real threat to life and health. It is impossible to leave from there alone as quarantine is introduced in the region.”
Other countries have also been working to repatriate their nationals from China.
Vladimir Chulanov, the Deputy Director of the Russian Health Ministry’s National medical research center of Phthisiopulmonology, stated in a report that the new strain of coronavirus may enter Russia in February. Human-to-human transmission, along with new cases of the virus reported in northern provinces of China, which border Russia, are among the factors that have put Russian officials on alert.
The author also suggested that the high activity of population migration between Russia and China because of the celebration of the Chinese New Year, which is celebrated on January 25, contributes to the spread of the virus.
“Under such conditions, the spread of the virus can be explosive,” RBK quoted Chulanov as saying on January 29. Nevertheless, the expert assessed the risk of the spread of coronavirus in Russia as “low.”
Russian authorities have already stepped up efforts to contain the virus spreading by temporarily halting tour groups from entering China. Monday was the last day organized groups of Chinese tourists were allowed entry. In addition, authorities have temporarily closed some land border crossings to China in the Russian Far East until February 7.
Russia has not had any confirmed cases of the virus. All Russian tourists returning from China since Tuesday are being screened, according to the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare.