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3 Sep, 2021 13:01

Russia building 'sanitary shield' network of labs working with dangerous viruses, to understand pathogens & develop new vaccines

Russia building 'sanitary shield' network of labs working with dangerous viruses, to understand pathogens & develop new vaccines

Work is now underway on building a "sanitary shield" around Russia, held together by a chain of high-tech biological research facilities designed to handle deadly pathogens and develop vaccines against them, Moscow has announced.

Speaking at the New Knowledge conference in the Russian capital on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova praised the project as vital for the country to deliver. The order to establish it came from President Vladimir Putin himself, and officials are now "actively working" on plans for it, she said.

READ MORE: As Delta variant rages, Saint Petersburg study finds Sputnik V vaccine is 81% effective at preventing Covid hospitalizations

"Today we believe that this project is one of the most important, because this won't be the only pandemic that we will have to face in our lives," Golikova added. The first 15 "high security" laboratories will be up and running by 2024 and will deal with viruses that are "very, very contagious, and lead to fatal diseases," she said. At present, the country only has three such labs, but there are hopes to lift this number to 36 by 2030.

In addition to the research centers, infrastructure will also be laid down to test new arrivals to the country. "We are planning to create, at checkpoints along the whole border of the Russian Federation, express diagnostics units that can test for any virus within an hour," she revealed.

Golikova said that there is sometimes a belief that when a vaccine is developed quickly, it will be of poor quality. Russia's decision to register the world's first Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, last summer drew accusations that its safety testing and development timetable had been rushed. "But it is not so," she said. "Today, science and engineering has reached a level that allows us to build it like a designer, using biological, mathematical and other methods."

Researchers working with potentially lethal pathogens have come under fire since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with claims that the first cases could have originated from a virology institute in China. Criticism of so-called 'gain-of-function' experiments, in which viruses are genetically engineered to have new characteristics, has become a particular area of concern for commentators and some US politicians.

American intelligence released an unclassified summary of a report earlier this week in which officials said that Covid-19 could have originated from an incident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Beijing has consistently slammed the allegations as "political."

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