MOSCOW >> A Russian court today ordered a woman who escaped from a virus quarantine to return back to the hospital she fled and stay under quarantine for at least two more days. The ruling underlined the chaotic public health approaches being taken to stop the spread of the new coronavirus from China.
Alla llyina was admitted to the hospital in the northern Russian city of St. Petersburg on Feb. 6 with a sore throat and was tested for the new virus because she had returned from China five days earlier. She broke out of the hospital the next day by disabling an electronic lock in her room after finding out she would have to spend 14 days in isolation instead of the 24 hours that doctors promised her.
In an Instagram post, Ilyina said doctors told her that she tested negative for the virus but still had to remain quarantined for two weeks.
“Wild,” Ilyina wrote. “All three tests showed I was completely healthy, so why the hell the quarantine?”
Her brazen departure apparently embarrassed Russian authorities. Several days later, Russia’s public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor filed a lawsuit against her, asking the court to order compulsory hospitalization for her.
The virus, which emerged in central China in December, has infected more than 71,000 people, killing 1,770 patients in mainland China and five others elsewhere. China has instituted strict lockdown measures on over 60 million people in central Hubei province and other nations are taking their own measures — including mandatory 14-day quarantines — to make sure the virus does not get established on their territory.
Ilyina’s defense lawyer argued during the court hearing today that she didn’t pose any danger to people around her and noted that she was allowed into a courtroom packed with dozens of people, none of whom — including Russian health authorities — wore masks.
She had told the Fontanka newspaper that her isolation room was dire — no books, no shampoo, no Wi-Fi, a wastebasket that was never emptied, a door secured by an electronic lock. Frustrated, she figured out how to short-circuit the lock.
Health officials maintained that isolating Ilyina was a necessary measure to stop the virus from spreading, claiming it can be latent in a person for up to 24 days. The court sided with them and ordered her to return to the hospital and stay in isolation at least until Wednesday.
The lawsuit clearly aimed to discourage other people from following her lead. The St. Petersburg branch of Rospotrebnadzor did not respond to a request for comment on the effectiveness of the court ruling, given that Ilyina has already roamed free for almost 10 days after escaping.
Last week, at least three other people in quarantine for possible coronavirus infection fled the same St. Petersburg hospital. Two of them have since returned while the third — a woman named Anna Rybakova, according to media reports — remains at large. Rospotrebnadzor has filed a lawsuit to bring Rybakova back to the hospital as well, and a hearing on that is scheduled for Wednesday.
The chief of Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova, announced today that health officials were looking into introducing “harsher responsibility” for patients who violated quarantine rules and “stricter quarantine protocols.”
Russia has seen only two cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, two Chinese citizens who have been treated and released. Still, Russian authorities have taken vast measures to prevent its spread, including hospitalizing hundreds of people who returned from China as a precaution.
Russia has also halted most air traffic to China, suspended all trains to China and North Korea and closed its land border with China and Mongolia. Moscow has also temporarily stopped issuing work visas to Chinese citizens and told Chinese students who had been studying in Russia not to return until March 1.
Quarantine protocols vary across Russia. In some regions, health officials isolate Chinese citizens who have recently returned from China, and in others everyone who reports symptoms resembling new virus is subject to a 14-day quarantine.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has also said that Russia may start deporting foreigners infected with the virus.
Russian authorities, meanwhile, reported Monday that a Russian woman aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan is the first Russian citizen to be diagnosed with COVID-19.
The woman will be transferred to a hospital and receive treatment, the Russian Embassy in Japan said in a Facebook post. It wasn’t immediately clear where that would be. She is one of 454 people who have been infected on that particular cruise ship.