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Policemen wearing face masks walk on snow-covered Red Square in downtown Moscow on Friday. Photo: AFP

Coronavirus: Russia admits to world’s third-worst death toll, saying fatalities are three times higher than reported

  • For months, Putin has boasted about his country’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying it had done a better job than Western nations
  • Between January and November, total deaths from all causes rose by 229,700 compared to previous year, with more than 80 per cent of that due to the coronavirus

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.

For months President Vladimir Putin has boasted 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.

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

On Monday, Russian officials admitted that was true.


Putin orders large-scale coronavirus vaccinations in Russia next week

Putin orders large-scale coronavirus vaccinations in Russia next week

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.

“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.

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.

‘I don’t intend to experiment on my body’: Russians wary of Sputnik shot

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

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

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.

Rosstat’s new figures mean that Russia now has the world’s third-highest Covid-19 death toll behind the United States with over 333,000 and Brazil with 191,139.


Russia approves ‘world’s first’ Covid-19 vaccine, President Vladimir Putin says

Russia approves ‘world’s first’ Covid-19 vaccine, President Vladimir Putin says

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.

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

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.

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

Russians recoil at avoiding alcohol for Sputnik shot

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.

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

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

A patient gets a Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine shot in Moscow on Monday. Photo: Moscow News Agency photo via AP

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

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

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.

However Russia has not said how many people it has vaccinated so far, and according to recent surveys by state-run pollster VTsIOM and the Levada polling agency only 38 per cent of Russians plan to get the shot.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Russia admits death toll is three times higher than previously reported to world's third-worst coronavirus death toll