New data triples Russia’s Covid-19 death toll

MOSCOW – After months of questions about the true extent of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia and the effectiveness of a Russian-developed vaccine, the State Statistics Agency in Moscow announced new figures indicating that the death toll from Covid-19 more than tripled is as high as officially reported.

Since the start of the pandemic earlier this year, the health crisis has been shrouded, and according to critics, distorted by political calculations, as President Vladimir V. Putin and the Kremlin-controlled media have repeatedly boasted of Russian successes in fighting the virus and preserving the mortality rate relatively low.

Russia has reported more than 3 million cases of infection, making it the fourth most severely affected country in the world, but only 55,827 deaths, less than in seven other countries. A demographer from a government agency who questioned the official death toll and dismissed it as too low was fired during the summer.

New data released by the state statistics agency Rosstat on Monday indicated that the demographic was similar and that the actual number of deaths was much higher than previously reported. The agency reported that the number of deaths between January and November was 229,732 higher than in the same period last year, an increase that a senior official largely blames the coronavirus.

Tatyana Golikova, a deputy prime minister who led Russia’s efforts to fight the pandemic, said in a government briefing on Monday that more than 81 per cent of the increasing number of deaths in 2020 was ‘due to Covid’, which would mean that the virus has killed more than 186,000 Russians so far this year.

This is still far less than the more than 334,000 deaths caused by Covid-19 in the United States, but it does mean that Russia suffered more deaths as a result of the pandemic than European countries such as Italy, France and Britain, whose poor record was frequently quoted by Russian state media as proof of Russia’s relative triumph. As of Tuesday afternoon, the website with the new data from Rosstat was inaccessible.

The gap between the official mortality rate and the actual mortality rate is largely explained by Russia’s use to record a death as a coronavirus, only in cases where an autopsy has confirmed the coronavirus as the main cause. Critics say this has enabled the authorities to massage the numbers.

Instead of comforting the population, however, juggling with statistics has only the deep distrust that many Russians have towards their government, even among those who for Mr. Putin voted, and fed his reassuring statements.

In August, Russia became the first country to register a coronavirus vaccine, an achievement made by Mr. Putin was seen as proof of his country’s superior science, and began a nationwide vaccination campaign in early December. But a recent survey found that only 38 percent of Russians plan to be vaccinated despite assurances that it comes from Mr. Putin works, who won nearly 77 percent of the vote in a presidential election last year.

Russia has a long history of world-class scientific achievements. But the credibility of his vaccine, named after the world’s first satellite, the Soviet-era Sputnik, was tilted by the fact that Mr. Putin has announced that he is ready to use before normal clinical trials are completed.

The suspicion of what the authorities are saying is so widespread that there was little shock or even surprise earlier this month when an investigative newspaper, Proekt, reported that Mr. Putin, unlike reports on state television, did not work much of the year. a government residence near Moscow, but spent part of the time relaxing in his holiday home on the warmer shores of the Black Sea.

Images of mr. Putin, who holds video conferences with officials from a sparsely furnished office, was an important aspect of news bulletins on state television, sending a message that the president remains safe but is still working hard near Moscow.

Proekt reports that Mr. Putin actually divided his time between his residence near Moscow and a villa in Sochi, a Black Sea resort town, and built two identically appointed offices for linking videos to hide him. The Kremlin denied the report.