President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Popova, I would like to congratulate you on the anniversary of your agency, this time in this private setting. Tomorrow it will be 100 years since its establishment. I would like to wish all the best to you and all employees of the agency, all the scientists, specialists and everyone else who, as I have already said, are working throughout our enormous territory, practically in every corner of our country; to thank you for your work and congratulate you on the anniversary of your agency once again.
I know that you are always on duty day and night. You and I were practically in constant contact during the acute phase of countering the coronavirus. How are you doing now?
Head of Rospotrebnadzor Anna Popova: Thank you very much.
But I would still like to take a moment to thank you very much for your appreciation of our team, which caused such a surge of emotion just now. You know, it was not just a wave of emotion but a tsunami. I had time to get a look at my colleagues and saw their bright eyes, their joy. I am infinitely grateful to you for your appreciation of my colleagues and our service.
Vladimir Putin: They deserve it.
Anna Popova: Yes. And for your words. This is an advance for us and we will work it off.
Now about the epidemiological situation. On the whole, it is stable in the country for all infectious diseases. We have managed to inoculate people against measles and poliomyelitis. We also took additional measures in the spring of this year to complete immunisation for both the population of the Russian Federation and for people who were compelled by circumstance to come to us. There are no risks in this respect today.
We are starting to vaccinate against seasonal flu. We are anticipating its arrival. We are monitoring and analysing all developments and the situation is stable.
Speaking about the coronavirus, the epidemiological situation is under control. The last wave that came somewhere in early August is receding.
As we expected, the period from the beginning of the ascent to the peak lasted for no more than five or six weeks. The course of the disease is fairly mild. This is a different strain of the virus. It is very contagious but the course of the disease has changed. We almost do not see primary pneumonias or what is called anosmia or loss of smell. We do not see patients in critical condition in resuscitation or intensive care units. This shows that this is a different strain of the virus but it is spreading very rapidly.
At first, it was spreading in the central part of the country and in the capitals – Moscow, the Moscow Region and St Petersburg. Now it is on the decline there and the wave is moving to the regions. This time, the Far Eastern regions were the first to face this new wave, the onslaught of the new coronavirus strain — omicron ВА.4 and ВА.5. But it was also on the decline by the beginning of September.
Today, we continue recording growth in 50 regions. These are the results of the past week. We are seeing a reduction in 27 regions. It is quite rapid in the Moscow Region and in Moscow. The situation has stabilised in eight regions. There is no reduction but they have flattened the curve.
There is no increase in the number of hospitalisations. The increase during the last week was not big. And the increase in cases is higher for the time being than the increase in hospitalisations. There is almost no increase in the number of patients taken to hospital.
Infants under one year old and people older than 60–65 years are risk groups. Of course, the number of visits to doctors is high enough and the number of cases is also high.
But we have worked through all algorithms and measures. People in the regions are advised to wear masks in public places but we are not introducing any mandatory regulations. Today, we are conducting information and education work and it is producing results when it is done in real earnest but, unfortunately, this is not done everywhere. This is about the coronavirus.
Now we are moving into autumn, anticipating the flu, and starting with flu shots.
Vladimir Putin: Just a second. Does the vaccine we used against the previous strain work against this new strain that is not so malicious but still harmful?
Anna Popova: Yes, still harmful. Colleagues that are producing vaccines are saying that this vaccine protects against the new strain. It is necessary to be inoculated and the anti-COVID inoculation campaign continues today, too. We started it a bit earlier when we realised that a spike was coming.
I know that today colleagues are developing new versions of the vaccine and we are hoping they will be effective enough against future new strains.
Vladimir Putin: All right.
Anna Popova: With your permission, I would like to say a few words about the results of our work on your instructions. And, of course, about our core undertaking – the Sanitary Shield – that we are involved with. Officially it was launched in 2022 but we started doing it in the autumn of 2021. Today, we have nine test systems for identifying seven infections in 60 minutes. This is a very fast system and we focused on this. These infections include COVID-19, A and B flu, staphylococcus, fungal infections, candida, and black mold that unfortunately accompany many infectious diseases. Four of them have already been put into production and another three are about to be produced. In other words, we completed the cycle and we did this quickly enough.
To understand what variant of any microorganism is circulating we need to see what it consists of and how it is changing. So today we have already set up 15 sequencing centres (there were just a few when we started this). They are powerful enough and the number of studies has tripled (from 2,000 to 6,500 a week). We are seeing their variability. We are seeing how a pathogen changes (or does not change), and adjusting our anti-epidemic measures accordingly.
By 2024, we will establish 24 such centres under Rospotrebnadzor alone. This is what we planned, and it is working out. This will be Europe’s biggest national network.
We are working on the catalogue, also following your instructions, which we are doing as part of the Sanitary Shield. This is our national interactive catalogue of pathogenic microorganisms and biotoxins. We are digitising all we know, all cultures we have by sequencing them to make them easy to use.
With your permission, I would like to recall the situation with anthrax. When we dealt with that, it took us a lot more time to figure out than it would today. This is because now we have digital certificates of the pathogens we know and have in our collections. This requires much effort but we are doing a good job.
Of course, I must mention where we are uploading information on sequencing. Following your instruction – and thank you very much – we have created a national database (only for COVID for the time being) where we upload all sequencing results from all laboratories. There are 13 departments there and many laboratories. Any sequencing of the new coronavirus goes there. This has substantially expanded the amount of information.
We started this in June 2021, and today we have there 150,000 sequences, approaching 160,000. Our scientists contributed only 16,000 sequences to the international system. This is voluntary but we must share the information without violating any IP rights to this scientific knowledge. We see everything and we are quickly seeing changes in the COVID virus. This is a very good result of the past two years.
We have many other results and I will be pleased to share them with you, if I may.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.