• Russia has set up a quarantine facility for evacuees in Tyumen, Siberia
  • Russia has repatriated about 144 people from Wuhan thus far
  • Russia has closed most transport links with China

Almost 80 Russian citizens who were airlifted from coronavirus-stricken Wuhan, China arrived in Tyumen, Siberia on Wednesday where they will spend the next two weeks under quarantine.

The defense ministry noted that no infections were detected among this first batch of evacuees – however, under law they must be held for observation at the Tyumen facility.

Another military plane carrying about 70 other people from China’s Hubei province was expected to land in Tyumen later on Wednesday.

Anna Popova, Russia’s chief medical officer, said all arrivals from Hubei will be quarantined in a camp about 19 miles outside Tyumen, a city of 800,000 people and the center of Russia’s oil industry.

An official from a government consumer protection group said the Siberian medical facilities will be protected by fencing and patrolled by the Russian National Guard.

“People will live in their own rooms, without leaving them. All measures are necessary for biological safety,” said Svetlana Popova, a doctor at the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare. “Everything will be done according to the rules.”

Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova estimated there were more than 600 Russians in Hubei province, suggesting the majority have yet to be evacuated.

Russia has already closed much of its 2,670-mile land border with China, but last week reported its first two cases of coronavirus in Siberia. Both cases were Chinese citizens.

Moscow has taken other steps to prevent the further spread of the virus into its lands, by restricting border crossings and halting direct passenger trains and most commercial flights to and from China.

The Russian government has also empowered local authorities to deport any foreigners infected with the virus.

“This will allow us to deport foreign citizens if they are found to have such a disease, and to introduce special restrictive measures, including isolation or quarantine,” said Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

He added that Russia has “all the necessary medications, protective means to counter the coronavirus spread.”

The virus has now killed almost 500 people and infected more than 24,000 others, virtually all of them in mainland China.

“We are preparing ourselves for a possible [extensive] spread of the infection,” said Deputy Health Minister Sergei Krayevoy.

As of Tuesday, Russia’s national Aeroflot airline was the only carrier operating routes between Moscow and Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Flights are restricted to just one terminal in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, thereby making it easier to monitor people for virus symptoms.

Meduza, a Russian newspaper, said it spoke to a Russian woman from Rostov-on-Don who was evacuated from Wuhan.

“I went to Wuhan for the New Year’s holidays to visit friends,” the unnamed woman said. “They’re local Chinese nationals. I was there from Dec. 30 to Feb. 4. On the night of New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, I got news from Chinese friends that some virus had appeared in Wuhan and that it wasn’t very safe there. But nobody gave it much thought.”

Weeks later as the virus worsened and Wuhan came under lockdown, the woman contacted the nearest Russian Embassy and were told she and her fellow Russians would be evacuated.

“Nobody knew until the last moment that we were going to Tyumen,” she said. “Talk was about somewhere outside Moscow. But the quarantine doesn’t bother me. I wouldn’t want to endanger other people.“

As for the Tyumen facility, she told Meduza: “We’ve been given everything we need, but we can’t leave our rooms for 14 days straight. We’re not allowed to come into contact with anyone, otherwise, the 14-day quarantine clock restarts. There are two or three people to a room. Different [types of people] were in the evacuation. We’re talking tourists and students and people there on work visas. There’s not much to do with all the spare time, but I’m keeping busy. I’m studying as a linguist, so I’ll spend the 14 days on language study.”

She added: “I’m from Rostov-on-Don and it’s not yet clear if they’ll help me get home after the quarantine. But I’m in touch with my family. They’re worried, of course, but we’ve been comforting each other the whole time. We’ve tried to treat the situation like the plot of a movie or a game.”

Rostov-on-Don is located about 1,600 miles southwest of Tyumen.