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Russia bans use of ventilators linked to deadly fires after dozens sent to U.S.

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Emergencies personnel work at the site of a fire at the Saint George hospital in Saint Petersburg on May 12, 2020. OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty

Moscow — Russian authorities have banned the use of one model of ventilator machine pending investigations into two deadly hospital fires. The Aventa-M machines have been preliminarily linked to the blazes, which left six coronavirus patients dead.

Some ventilators of the same model were sent by Russia to the United States last month, but have not been put into use.

Five coronavirus patients died in a fire allegedly caused by a short circuit or some other fault in an Aventa-M machine at the intensive care unit (ICU) of a St. Petersburg hospital on Tuesday. One patient died in similar blaze at a Moscow hospital three days earlier. While short circuits have been discussed as probably causes in both fires, the incidents remain under investigation.

Nonetheless, Russia's healthcare watchdog announced Wednesday that hospitals in the county have been told to stop using Aventa-M ventilators manufactured since April 1. The relevant ventilators were all assembled at the same plant in Russia's Urals region.

Moscow sent dozens of the ventilators of the same model to the United States — part of a larger shipment of medical supplies — in early April. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has said those ventilators went to New York and New Jersey, but were never used.

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A firefighter at the site of a fire at the Saint George hospital in Saint Petersburg, Russia, May 12, 2020. OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty

They "have not been deployed to hospitals," FEMA spokeswoman Janet Montesi said in statement quoted by Reuters. "Out of an abundance of caution, the states are returning the ventilators to FEMA."

Russian business news outlet RBC reported last month that the plant that produced the ventilators is part of a holding company that has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014.

Meanwhile, Russia reported 10,028 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the country's official tally to 242,271. The death toll, which remains a topic of intense speculation given its relative low number compared to countries with similar-sized outbreaks, climbed to 2,212, with 96 new deaths registered in the past day.

This week the Kremlin eased a national lockdown introduced to slow the spread of the virus despite a steady rise in infections that has now placed Russia's outbreak second, behind only the U.S., in terms of confirmed cases.

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