Russian Region in Putin’s Spotlight as Its Covid-19 Cases Spike

(Bloomberg) -- President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to build a 200-bed hospital in Dagestan, a poor Muslim-majority region in Russia’s North Caucasus that has been among the country’s hardest-hit by the coronavirus epidemic.

“The situation in the Republic of Dagestan is difficult and demands urgent measures,” Putin said during a televised meeting devoted to the region’s situation Monday.

Dagestan has the fifth-most cases of coronavirus in Russia, although evidence suggests the problem is far worse than the official numbers. Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said at the meeting there are 7,000 people hospitalized on suspicion of coronavirus, even though only 3,460 diagnoses and 29 deaths have been recorded in the republic.

The World Health Organization is in talks with Russia on how officials calculate the mortality rate, which at 0.9% is far below the global average and the lowest among nations with the most cases. Russia has the world’s second-highest number of coronavirus infections at 290,678 so far.

Dagestan Health Minister Dzhamaludin Gadzhiibragimov said in an interview over the weekend that there have been 657 deaths from pneumonia in 2020. That’s about half of the annual average over the last two years. The republic’s Chief Mufti Ahmad Abdulaev told Putin many Covid-19 deaths in remote villages were not being recorded.

More than a third of people tested for Covid-19 in Dagestan are positive, compared to a national average of 10% to 12%, the head of Russia’s public health watchdog, Anna Popova, said. She said that 60% of cases there have pneumonia compared to 20% nationally.

The number of new diagnoses in Russia is starting to decline. The total of 8,926 confirmed cases in the past day was the smallest since May 1, while the seven-day average of new infections has fallen over the last week.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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