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Doctor At Quarantined Bashkortostan Hospital Says 'Pneumonia' Cases Had Risen For Weeks

A worker disinfects a public space in Ufa, which only reported its first COVID-19 death on April 7.
A worker disinfects a public space in Ufa, which only reported its first COVID-19 death on April 7.

UFA -- A doctor among some 500 medical personnel and 600 patients placed under a strict coronavirus quarantine in the largest hospital in Ufa, the capital of Russia's Bashkortostan region, says that the medical facility was seeing a rise of cases attributed to "pneumonia" for two weeks.

"The flow of patients was simply enormous," Dr. Rimma Kamalova, the head of the Kuvatov Republican Clinical Hospital's rheumatology department, told RFE/RL on April 8.

"Something strange was happening, some kind of outbreak of viral pneumonia, and it seems they planned on patients arriving with some other diseases," she said, adding that while some were given swabs for flu strains, none were tested for the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

Bashkortostan head Rady Khabirov announced on the VK social network on April 7 that the Russian region had recorded its first coronavirus fatality. The victim, an 80-year-old woman, had died died two days before.

Following the death, the hospital was placed under quarantine for two weeks on suspicion that five staff members and two patients had been infected with the coronavirus.

A dozen patients and medical personnel at the facility have since been sent for treatment at an infectious-diseases hospital.

In a follow-up interview on April 8, Kamalova said that more than 60 patients tested positive for coronavirus, although those numbers had not been confirmed by officials.

Kamalova said that staff members had reported the rise in incidence of pneumonia, but were reprimanded for not working well and not following sanitary standards, accusations that she refutes.

Meanwhile, the number of patients with pneumonia continued to increase, Kamalova added.

Bashkortostan, located about 1,200 kilometers east of Moscow, had recorded 16 coronavirus infections as of April 8, with one fatality.

Russia as a whole had confirmed over 8,670 cases of infection, with at least 63 deaths, although official figures related to COVID-19 have been questioned.

On April 7, the region's health minister, Maksim Zabelin, announced that the entire staff at Kuvatov Republican Clinical Hospital would be tested for coronavirus multiple times.

Zabelin also said that quarantined employees had been provided with personal protective equipment and had enough medication to continue effectively treating patients.

However, Kamalova told RFE/RL that she and her fellow medical workers had been provided only with simple masks, gloves, sanitizer, and alcohol wipes to stave off coronavirus infection, but that full-body hazmat suits and equipment needed to treat serious coronavirus infections had not been made available.

"We will suffer inconvenience," Kamalova said of medical workers. "But for us this is not the main thing," she added, expressing concern for the patients undergoing treatment at the hospital.

"We must now work together, in solidarity, and not throw blame from a sore head to a healthy one," she said. "And don't hide, do not gloss over the true state of affairs."