Russia Raises 2020 Covid-19 Death Toll By 38% in Grim Admission

Russia’s statistics agency raised the number of deaths directly attributed to Covid-19 last year by 38%, showing the pandemic’s toll has been worse than acknowledged.

There were 144,691 deaths last year attributed to the coronavirus, up from 104,826 previously reported, according to a Rosstat report released late Friday.

The data did not contain deaths of people who had Covid-19 but were found to have died from other causes. Previously, Rosstat listed 58,499 deaths in that category for last year, but a spokesman said some of those had been shifted into the revised total for deaths attributed to covid.

“Reduced immunity in people who had the coronavirus is a very serious issue,” Rosstat deputy chief Pavel Smelov said in an interview before the data was published. “Many of them later ended up in hospitals and died from completely different causes, most often circulatory problems, strokes, diabetes, respiratory diseases and kidney complications.”

His agency and the Health Ministry have been tracking such people, according to Smelov. The data show that this group was more likely to die from an array of health problems than people who never got Covid-19, he said.

Excess Deaths

Over 340,000 more Russians died in 2020 than the previous year. Friday’s revision didn’t change the overall number of deaths reported for last year.

In data for 2021, the discrepancy between the number of Covid-19 related deaths and excess deaths has largely vanished. In the first four months of this year, Rosstat reported 77,943 deaths attributed to coronavirus.

An increase in the number of fatalities attributed to the coronavirus raises questions about upbeat official assertions on Russia’s handling of the pandemic. President Vladimir Putin told 5,000 in-person attendees at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last week that Russia could hold such events because “our situation is better than in many other countries.”

More Infections

Russia has the seventh-most deaths from Covid-19 globally, according to the daily figures the government’s virus-response center reports. However, it rises to third-most, behind the U.S. and Brazil, when using Rosstat’s figures, which are released with a delay but considered more accurate.

The new data is unlikely to lead to a change in Russia’s policy. After an initial lockdown, authorities largely avoided restrictions in order to limit the economic fallout from the pandemic.

While western countries have seen a decline in infections as vaccination rates rise, Russia’s case count is growing amid a slow uptake of domestically-developed vaccines. The number of daily cases on Friday rose to the highest since February, while just 12% of the population has been inoculated despite widespread availability.

In May, overall deaths declined 6.3% from a year earlier, when Covid was already spreading widely, RIA Novosti reported Friday, citing Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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