While the numbers look stark, the overall figure is comparable to other European countries, when viewed per capita. This is despite Moscow refusing to implement strict autumn and winter lockdowns. The state statistical agency, Rosstat, said on Monday that almost 230,000 extra deaths have been recorded up to the end of November, compared with the total from 2019.
Speaking to journalists after the announcement, Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova added that “more than 81% of this increase in mortality over this period is due to Covid and the consequences of the disease.” This would place estimates for the number of coronavirus deaths at around 186,000, rather than initial estimates of just over 55,000.
While there are different methods for determining the deaths unleashed by the virus, comparing excess numbers over different years is thought to be among the most accurate. It hands Russia a grisly podium place in the pandemic, with the world’s third-largest known death toll behind the US and Brazil. But, when different population sizes are accounted for, the country’s mortality rate appears more in keeping with comparable nations, many of which pursued costly second and third lockdowns.
For example, in November, the UK consistently recorded over 3,000 Covid-19 deaths per week as it struggled to contain a second wave of infections. France reported that more than 4,000 people died with the virus in one week alone that month. On average, for the same period, Russia’s was around 8,900, despite a population more than twice the size of both.
While, as Golikova notes, “the more a country tests, the more new cases it detects,” Russia has clearly embraced that paradigm, with a concerted effort to increase detection of the virus. According to the country’s health protection agency on Tuesday, more than 89.8 million tests have been performed since the pandemic began, including close to 300,000 in the past 24 hours.
Russia’s approach to the pandemic has been markedly different to many other European nations. Despite initially putting in place one of the toughest lockdown regimes in the world, Moscow’s policymakers have been reluctant to return to sweeping national measures, as seen elsewhere. In October, President Vladimir Putin told reporters that authorities “do not plan to introduce restrictive measures across the board, such as nationwide lockdowns, when that would totally halt the economy and the operation of businesses.”
Instead, the country has focused on scaling up testing and rolling out more hospital capacity to deal with rising numbers of cases. For example, on Monday, officials in the southern city of Sochi announced that a fifth Covid-19 hospital would open, with more than 200 additional beds being opened up for patients in a former dermatology clinic.
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