Moscow defends reporting of low coronavirus death statistics

Deaths of those infected with coronavirus were ascribed to other causes following post-mortem exams, said officials.

    As in other countries, exhibition centres in Moscow have been converted into temporary hospitals [Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]
    As in other countries, exhibition centres in Moscow have been converted into temporary hospitals [Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

    Russia's high number of confirmed coronavirus cases but low number of deaths has raised questions about the veracity of the Kremlin's reporting of the pandemic's statistics.

    But Moscow hit back on Wednesday, saying its way of counting and attributing deaths was the most accurate.

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    More than 60 percent of people who died in April after contracting coronavirus had their deaths ascribed to other causes, said city officials.

    Of Russia's 2,212 coronavirus deaths, Moscow, the epicentre of the country's outbreak, accounts for 1,232.

    Moscow's department of health said Russia, unlike other countries, conducted post-mortem examinations for every death in which coronavirus was suspected as the main cause.

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    "Therefore, post-mortem diagnoses and causes of death recorded in Moscow are ultimately extremely accurate, and mortality data is completely transparent," it said.

    "It's impossible in other COVID-19 cases to name the cause of death. So, for example, in over 60 percent of deaths the cause was clearly for different reasons - such as vascular failures (such as heart attacks), stage four malignant diseases, leukaemia, systemic diseases which involve organ failure, and other incurable fatal diseases."

    Officials said 639 people in Moscow had died in April as a direct result of the coronavirus and its complications such as pneumonia.

    10,000 cases in one day

    Russia reported more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, continuing a trend that has seen the country register 242,271 infections, the world's second-highest number after the United States. Officials say the high number of cases recorded is the result of a massive testing programme, with more than six million tests carried out so far.

    Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said more than 100,000 patients were now hospitalised with confirmed or suspected coronavirus, a jump from the figure of 80,000 he gave on Friday.

    Nearly 1,500 patients are currently on ventilators, the minister said.

    An unofficial death toll among medics started by a group of Russian doctors listed 174 names as of Wednesday, including some from neighbouring Belarus.

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    Healthcare workers have complained of shortages of protective equipment and said medics were dying at a higher rate in Russia than elsewhere.

    The Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday that the Russian Foreign Ministry wanted official retractions from two Western newspapers who had published what it said was incorrect information about the country's coronavirus death rate. 

    Ventilators taken offline

    Russia's healthcare regulator on Wednesday ordered a halt to the use of ventilators believed to have caused two fires at coronavirus hospitals in Moscow and Saint Petersburg that left six people dead.

    The blazes have been linked to Aventa-M breathing machines, which were also part of a Russian shipment to the US on April 1.

    A spokesman for the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said the equipment had been sent to hospitals in US states New York and New Jersey but had not been used.

    "Out of an abundance of caution, the states are returning the ventilators to FEMA" and any future use will be decided after the Russian probe concludes, the spokesman added.

    While restrictions in Moscow remain, the Kremlin this week began easing a national lockdown, despite a steady rise in infections, including among prominent political figures.

    Prominent legislator Oxana Pushkina said she tested positive for the coronavirus, but had no symptoms and added she hoped to get back to work soon.

    President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin earlier tested positive and were hospitalised.

    Peskov's wife, Olympic ice dancer Tatiana Navka, who has also tested positive, wrote on Instagram that she was already recovering but "it's a bit more complicated for my husband." Peskov later revealed he was suffering from double pneumonia, brought on by the virus.

    The 52-year-old told Russia's Kommersant newspaper: "They caught it just in time", and called the virus "very bloodthirsty". He also said he had not met with President Vladimir Putin in person in more than a month. 

    SOURCE: News agencies