Wires

Russia prepares for potential virus spread, closes some schools

Maria Kiselyova and Gleb Stolyarov

MOSCOW, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Russia is preparing in case of a wide spread of China's coronavirus, a senior official said on Tuesday, as schools closed and public events were canceled in some regions though officials attributed that simply to flu.

Russia has a 4,300km (2,670-mile) land border with China and has reported two cases of the flu-like virus far from the capital Moscow in Siberia, both involving Chinese nationals.

Deputy health minister Sergei Krayevoy said it was hard to predict how Russia's 147 million people - including the disputed region of Crimea - would be affected by the fast-spreading virus which still has no vaccine.

But "we are preparing ourselves for a possible wide spread of the infection," he added in comments on Interfax news agency.

The virus has killed more than 420 people and infected more than 20,000, nearly all inside China, although cases have been recorded in 23 other countries and regions, and there have been two deaths in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Moscow has restricted border crossings from China, suspended direct passenger trains and flights there, may deport foreigners who test positive, and has sent a first plane to evacuate citizens from the virus epicenter Wuhan.

At least two regions - Ulyanovsk and nearby Samara region on the Volga river some 900km (560 miles) east of Moscow - have closed schools until the end of this week amid increased cases of flu which officials said were not linked to coronavirus.

Tatiana Drozhevkina, spokeswoman for Samara regional government, told Reuters schools were closed due to "a seasonal increase in flu cases."

A spokeswoman for Ulyanovsk region health ministry said the same. In a statement on its web site, the Ulyanovsk regional government, citing its health minister Sergei Panchenko, said all large public events were also canceled.

There were no coronavirus cases reported in either region. (Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Gleb Stolyarov and Tom Balmforth; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)