Russia admits to higher COVID-19 death toll

Moscow: Russia on Monday said its coronavirus death toll was more than three times higher than it had previously reported, making it the country with the third-largest number of fatalities.

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For months President Vladimir Putin has spoken about Russia’s low fatality rate from the virus, saying earlier this month that it had done a “better” job at managing the pandemic than western countries.

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But since early in the pandemic, some Russian experts have said the government was playing down the country’s outbreak.

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On Monday Russian officials admitted that was true.

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The Rosstat statistics agency said that the number of deaths from all causes recorded between January and November had risen by 229,700 compared to the previous year.

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“More than 81 per cent of this increase in mortality over this period is due to COVID-19,” said Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova, meaning that over 186,000 Russians have died from COVID-19.

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Russian health officials have registered more than three million infections since the start of the pandemic, putting the country’s caseload at fourth-highest in the world.

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But they have only reported 55,265 deaths – a much lower fatality rate than in other badly hit countries.

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Russia has been criticised for only listing COVID-19 deaths where an autopsy confirms the virus was the main cause.

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Alexei Raksha, a demographer who left Rosstat in July, said last week that the Russian health ministry and the consumer health ministry falsify coronavirus numbers.

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Rosstat’s new figures mean that Russia now has the world’s third-highest COVID-19 death toll behind the United States with 333,140 and Brazil with 191,139, according to an AFP count.

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The figures came as authorities hold out against reimposing a nationwide lockdown in the hopes of buttressing a struggling economy even as the country is battered by a second wave of infections.

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Russia’s government predicts the economy will shrink by 3.9 percent this year, while the Central Bank expects an even deeper decline.

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During his annual end-of-year press conference earlier this month, Putin rejected the idea of imposing the kind of lockdown many European countries introduced going into the Christmas holidays.

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“If we follow the rules and demands of health regulators, then we do not need any lockdowns,” he said.

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While strict measures have been imposed in some major cities, authorities in many regions have limited restrictions to mask-wearing in public spaces and reducing mass gatherings.

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But many Russians flout social distancing rules and in recent weeks the country’s outbreak has overwhelmed hospitals in the regions.

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Vaccine

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Russia has instead pinned its hopes on coralling its outbreak by vaccinating people en masse with its homemade Sputnik V jab, named after the Soviet-era satellite.

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The country launched a mass vaccination programme earlier this month, first inoculating high-risk workers aged between 18 and 60 without chronic illnesses.

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Over the weekend people older than 60 got the green light to receive the shot.

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On Monday Sputnik V’s developer, the state-run Gamaleya research centre, said that around 700,000 doses had so far been released for domestic use.

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