Russian doctors, nurses face more risks as virus cases grow

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

In this photo taken on Tuesday, April 21, 2020, a medical worker puts on protective gear in order to assist coronavirus patients at the intensive care unit of Vinogradov City Clinical Hospital in Moscow, Russia. Reports of Russian medical workers becoming infected with the coronavirus are emerging almost daily as the country copes with a growing number of patients. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

MOSCOW – A patient who had routine surgery at a hospital in St. Petersburg suddenly developed a fever after an operation. Doctors insisted on testing him for coronavirus and results showed that he had it.

And so did the Russian doctors, nurses and other patients who had unwittingly come in contact with him.

“It just snowballed from there,” said Dr. Dmitry Ptashnikov, head of the spinal surgery ward at the Vreden Institute for Traumatology and Orthopedics and one of the many medical workers who became infected. More than half of its staff and patients — dozens in all — eventually tested positive for COVID-19.

Reports of infected medical workers are emerging almost daily as Russia copes with the virus. Last week alone, more than 200 doctors in Moscow and St. Petersburg were reported to have it, with some turning to social media to make their plight known.

It's unclear how many Russian doctors and nurses overall have been infected. The Health Ministry did not respond to requests for comment but news reports from a dozen regions in the past two weeks suggest at least 450 medical workers have had COVID-19, with 11 doctors and five nurses dying.

The number is likely to be much higher because hospital officials often hide such infections, said Semyon Galperin, head of the Doctors Defense League.

“I know of cases of hospital administrations not reporting medics getting infected because it may lead to sealing off the facility for quarantine and halting its operations,” Galperin told The Associated Press.

The number of coronavirus cases in Russia has risen quickly to more than 93,000 with 867 deaths, although some in the West question the accuracy of those reports. Most of Russia's big cities have been locked down since March 30 under measures that were extended to May 11.