Russia to send virus specialists to South Africa to establish COVID-19 lab

Russia's leader made the pledge during a telephone call with his counterpart from South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, who thanked Russia for its cooperation, the Kremlin said in a statement.

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MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia will dispatch virus specialists to South Africa to establish a COVID-19 lab there after the discovery of the new variant Omicron.

Russia's leader made the pledge during a telephone call with his counterpart from South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, who thanked Russia for its cooperation, the Kremlin said in a statement.

"An agreement was reached to send a group of Russian virologists, epidemiologists, researchers and doctors, as well as a sanitary-epidemiological laboratory and other medical equipment to South Africa in the very near future," it read.

The detection of the first Omicron cases two weeks ago coincided with surges in infection numbers across the world, and the variant added fuel to concerns about a global COVID resurgence.

Russia at the beginning of the pandemic was accused of playing politics with virus aid and critics said its shipments of military doctors and medical equipment to Italy and Serbia was meant to curry favour in Europe.

Moscow last year sent a shipment of ventilators to the United States under the administration of Donald Trump but the equipment was found to be faulty was never put to use.

Russia's health ministry said earlier this week it had registered its first two cases of the new variant from people returning from South Africa.