New data triples Russia’s Covid-19 death toll

New data triples Russia’s Covid-19 death toll

Russia has reported more than 3 million cases of infection, making it the world’s fourth-hardest-hit country, but only 55,827 deaths

A pedestrian wearing a face mask walks under Christmas decorations in front of a shopping mall in Moscow. Credit: AFP.

After months of questions over the true scale of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia and the efficacy of a Russian-developed vaccine, the state statistical agency in Moscow has announced new figures indicating that the death toll from Covid-19 is more than three times as high as officially reported.

Russia has reported more than 3 million cases of infection, making it the world’s fourth-hardest-hit country, but only 55,827 deaths, fewer than in seven other countries. A demographer at a government agency who questioned the official fatality figures, dismissing them as far too low, was fired over the summer.

New data issued Monday by Rosstat, the state statistics agency, however, indicated that the demographer was right and the real number of fatalities is far higher than previously reported. The agency reported that the number of deaths between January and November was 229,732 higher than over the same period last year, an increase that a senior official blamed largely on the coronavirus.

Tatyana Golikova, a deputy prime minister leading Russia’s efforts to combat the pandemic, told a government briefing Monday that more than 81% of the increased number of deaths in 2020 was “due to Covid,” which would mean that the virus had killed more than 186,000 Russians so far this year.

This is still far fewer than the more than 334,000 deaths caused by Covid-19 in the United States but means that Russia has suffered more fatalities as a result of the pandemic than European countries like Italy, France and Britain, whose poor record has been regularly cited by Russian state media as proof of Russia’s relative triumph. As of Tuesday afternoon, the webpage giving Rosstat’s new data was inaccessible.

The gap between the official death rate and the real one is largely explained by Russia’s practice of recording a death as coronavirus-related only in cases where an autopsy has confirmed the coronavirus as the main cause. Critics say this has allowed authorities to massage the numbers.

Russia in August became the first country to register a coronavirus vaccine. But a recent survey found that only 38% of Russians intend to get vaccinated.