• Russia has a 2,670 mile long border with China
  • Russia has yet to report the virus in its territory
  • Some 2 million Chinese tourists visited Russia last year

Russia’s new Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has ordered officials to close the country’s border with China to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the state-run TASS news agency reported Thursday.

President Vladimir Putin had ordered Russian officials on Wednesday to do everything they can to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

“Work on [the closure] is already in progress. We will inform all those concerned properly about the measures to close the border in the Far Eastern region and other steps the government has taken [to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Russia],” Mishustin said.

The decree stated that 16 out of the 25 border crossings along the Russian-Chinese border will be closed as of midnight Jan. 31.

Mishushtin also ordered Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova to provide daily updates about the status of coronavirus in Russia. To that end, Mishustin approved the formation of a 12-person committee led by Golikova to help combat the virus.

Thus far, Russia has not reported any cases of the virus inside its territory.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has also temporarily suspended the issuance of electronic visas to Chinese citizens. The ministry also advised Russians to avoid journeying to China.

Earlier this week, Russia prohibited tourist groups from China from entering its territory.

Moscow has been engaged in talks with Chinese officials about evacuating its citizens from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak.

“I assume that the government, the Ministry of Health, and [Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare] will do everything so that any unexpected events that come before us are not a surprise to the vast majority of citizens, everyone must be prepared,” Putin told parliament on Wednesday.

However, given the length of the Russian-Chinese border (2,670 miles) and the size of its bilateral trade ($70 billion in just first eight months of 2019, reaching), Russian health officials worry that it may only be a matter of time before the virus arrives there.

Russian officials estimate that more than 2 million Chinese tourists visited the country in 2019, accounting for about one-third of all incoming visitors. But now Russian travel agencies have been told to stop selling travel packages to China.

“We have taken special control of hotels and other places where tourists gather en masse,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote on his website. “When alarming signs [of virus outbreak] appear, emergency medical teams will be sent to carry out a thorough examination.”

Several Russian airlines, including charter operators Azur Air and iFly, have suspended flights to China. Charter airlines are now expected to lose between 20% and 40% of their business this year if they are blocked from the Chinese market.

Ural Airlines has cancelled its scheduled flights to China from Yekaterinburg and Tyumen, while large airlines, including S7 Airlines and Aeroflot, are offering refunds for passengers who want to cancel their flights to China.

As of Thursday morning, Aeroflot was still operating flights to Beijing and Shanghai.

In a bizarre sidelight, the winner of a beauty contest in Russia’s far east is being told not to accept her prize – a trip to China.

Tatiana Ostapenko won the title of "Tatiana of the Year" in Khabarovsk, a region that borders China. The regional government of Khabarovsk, which praised Ostapenko’s victory and prize, has already advised its residents to avoid making any trips to China.

Social media mocked the regional government’s two-faced stance.

"Looks like the prize was chosen by her competitors," said one commenter. Another warned she'll be "risking her life” if she accepts her prize.

The Pacific National University of Khabarovsk, which sponsored the beauty contest, said Ostapenko “will get another prize if the coronavirus situation [in China] does not change by spring.”

Ostapenko herself told BBC: "It was a pleasant surprise to win. I'll have a think about the trip once the organizers tell me when exactly it's meant to be."