By Maria Tsvetkova and Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian investigators have opened a criminal case into a senior health ministry official for suspected negligence after she failed to self-isolate following a trip to Spain and allegedly infected several people with coronavirus, authorities said on Monday.
The woman, identified as Irina Sannikova by police, is the most senior infections specialist in a regional branch of the health ministry in the southern region of Stavropol. She is also part of the area’s response team to the virus outbreak.
She did not disclose a March 6-9 trip to Spain to colleagues however, and returned to work despite being required to stay at home for 14 days, Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Russia, which has asked everyone entering the country to self-isolate for two weeks, has 438 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far and one virus-related death.
Sannikova, who is also a university professor, was herself diagnosed with coronavirus last week, prompting authorities to quarantine 380 people at their homes and screen them for coronavirus.
On Monday, a spokeswoman for the regional health ministry said preliminary results showed 10 of those people had been infected. Other test results had yet to come in.
“I’m guilty,” Sannikova was quoted as saying by the Moscow-based Podyom media outlet on Saturday.
Sannikova could not be reached for comment. The health ministry declined to refer Reuters to the woman. It also declined to identify her publicly and said her identity was not public information.
The Investigative Committee, which handles probes into serious crimes, said she was suspected of negligence as well as endangering the lives or health of others by not disclosing vital information.
Igor Adrianov, a patient receiving treatment in the hospital that she oversaw and where she is now receiving treatment, said he had been quarantined after a nurse providing him treatment had tested positive for coronavirus.
He said the nurse had been screened after coming into contact with Sannikova, but that his own test had come back negative.
“I feel deep disappointment and even shame about our regional health care,” Adrianov said.
Russian authorities have said the situation with coronavirus is under control and that although the number of cases in Russia has risen in recent days, most have come from abroad.
The Russian army on Sunday began flying medical help to Italy after receiving an order from President Vladimir Putin, a goodwill gesture that Moscow labeled “From Russia with Love”.
(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)