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Coronavirus Patient In Russia Says Doctors Withheld His Diagnosis

Train attendants wearing protective face masks help passengers leave a Beijing-Moscow train at the Yaroslavsky railway station on February 3.

MOSCOW -- A Chinese national quarantined in Russia's Far East amid reports he's one of the country's first two patients with the highly infectious Wuhan coronavirus has appealed to journalists at a local news outlet to complain of unsanitary conditions and demand confirmation of his diagnosis.

In a letter to the news website on February 2, Wan Yunbin wrote that he had only learned of his diagnosis from news reports listing him as one of two Chinese nationals that Russian authorities named as coronavirus patients on January 31. According to the outlet, he attached a photograph of himself and his wife and child, who had also been admitted for treatment.

"I have a cough, and that's it. The doctors aren't telling me that I'm infected, and they don't share the results of my tests," quoted Wan as saying. "If that's indeed the case, I want to apologize to everyone. Perhaps I shouldn't have traveled anywhere."

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The Chinese national said that he had contacted doctors in Chita on January 26 after he began feeling ill and was sent to the city's infectious diseases clinic along with his 2-year-old daughter and wife. He said doctors had drawn his blood six times over a period of seven days but did not once report the results to him.

It was unclear for what purpose he had traveled to Russia and where he lived.

"We'd like to get our test results and know if we're sick or not. If we have the illness, then my child will need urgent care," he wrote, according to, adding that the 2-year-old had a high temperature and diarrhea. "I learned from Chinese news reports that that's very dangerous."

In a video Wan later sent to the news outlet, which was posted online, he said the conditions at his ward are insufficient for the level of care he and his family require. The clip shows two isolated rooms with brightly painted walls, a cot, a single bed, and a small supply of household items:

The man's public appeal came two days after the Health Ministry revealed Russia's first two cases of coronavirus infection, one in Western Siberia and the other in the Far East. It did not name the patients in its statement, only citing their Chinese nationality.

With a 4,000-kilometer border separating it from China, Russia's Far East has been on high alert in connection with the coronavirus outbreak that is believed to have originated at a seafood market in Wuhan, the most populous city in central China. More than 17,230 cases have been confirmed in China, along with at least 360 deaths. More than 140 cases have been confirmed overall in 23 other countries, resulting in one fatality.

As part of a swath of preventive measures introduced in Russia, control points along the entire stretch of the Far East border with China were closed on January 31. On February 3, passenger rail links with China were suspended.

Large Chinese tour groups, the biggest drivers of Russia's tourism industry in recent years, have been halted. In the first nine months of 2019, 1.3 million Chinese tourists visited Russia, helping fuel the country's economy and strengthen links with its largest trading partner.

The coronavirus outbreak has also been the first major test for Russia's restructured government, with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin taking a lead role in coordinating the country's response. On February 3, he announced plans to deport foreigners diagnosed with the illness.

In Chita, where Wan and his family reportedly became ill last week, and across Russia, the price of protective face masks has risen more than tenfold as supplies dwindle. On February 2, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the country's armed forces would deploy military aircraft to assist in the evacuation of Russian citizens from Chinese regions most affected by the epidemic.

In the Zabaikalye region, authorities were quick to counter Wan's allegations of unsanitary conditions at its hospitals, insisting that his ward had been regularly cleaned and his dietary needs met. Wan was informed of his diagnosis on February 2, according to the head doctor of Chita's infection clinic, Sergei Yurchuk.

"We received results from our analyses late on the evening of February 1, and early on February 2 we communicated them to the patient. We await his full recovery," he said.

Wan and his family would be discharged from care as soon as two consecutive blood tests produce a negative result, Yurchuk added.

The Health Ministry, in the meantime, announced its intention to investigate Wan's complaints about the conditions of his care.

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    Matthew Luxmoore

    Matthew Luxmoore is a Moscow-based journalist covering Russia and the former Soviet Union. He has reported for The New York Times in Moscow and has written for The Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. He’s a graduate of Harvard’s Davis Center and a recipient of New York University's Reporting Award and the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Journalism Award.