Russia to treat virus cases with anti-malaria drug

MOSCOW (AFP) – The Russian government has authorised the use of an anti-malarial drug to treat coronavirus patients despite international concerns over its safety and effectiveness.

The government published an order late Thursday allowing the use of hydroxychloroquine on patients after China donated more than 68,000 packs of the tablets to Russia.

The order was published after President Vladimir Putin had a phone conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday evening.

It said the drug would be distributed to hospitals that are caring for patients who have tested positive for coronavirus or are suspected of having it.

It said the drug’s safety and effectiveness will be monitored by the state health watchdog.

Hydroxychloroquine has been used for decades against malaria and is being tested worldwide against the virus along with another anti-malarial drug, chloroquine.

Hydroxychloroquine has shown early promise against COVID-19 in small-scale studies in France and China to reduce virus levels among people badly infected.

United States (US) President Donald Trump has touted it as a coronavirus treatment and in the US a limited emergency-use authorisation has been granted to the drug.

Russia said yesterday it had recorded 32,008 coronavirus cases, including a record 4,070 in the last 24 hours, with officials warning that Moscow was two to three weeks away from a peak in infections.

Official figures showed more than half of the new cases were registered in Moscow and the surrounding region. So far 273 deaths have been recorded in Russia, including 41 in the last 24 hours.

Moscow, Europe’s largest city with some 12 million inhabitants, has been under lockdown since the end of March but officials have complained that many residents are flouting confinement rules.

Deputy Mayor Anastasia Rakova warned the city “will face difficult weeks” ahead.

“The peak in morbidity should arrive in the next two to three weeks,” she said in a video released on social media.

Under confinement rules that Muscovites have to observe until at least May 1, they are only allowed to leave their homes to go to work, walk their dogs, take out trash or visit their nearest shop.

This week city authorities tightened the lockdown by introducing a digital permit system, requiring that anyone travelling by car or public transport obtain a pass.

Russia has carried out more than 1.7 million coronavirus tests, though there have been concerns about their reliability.