Coronavirus: How Russia glosses over its Covid death toll

3 月 23, 2021World News

Protecting themselves for a shift on the Covid ward is a process the medics at Perm Regional Hospital have fine-tuned over months of practice. They climb quickly into disposable suits before strapping plastic masks tight to their faces. A colleague then helps them on with a double layer of rubber gloves, taped to their wrists.

A year into the pandemic, the virus this team are battling is familiar, but their careful daily routine is a reminder of the risk – it was last autumn that Covid-19 struck hardest in Perm, on its sweep from Moscow across the regions, and the number of sick and dead shot up.

But there is very little talk in Russia of the death toll from Covid. The full data revealed by excess mortality is not secret, but it’s never highlighted, and the preliminary tally published each day by the government significantly underplays the impact.

The names and the numbers

Valery Gilyov fell sick in September with classic symptoms of Covid. A security guard at a Perm TV station, he began posting a diary on social media, describing calling for ambulances that never came.

In his last post before dying, Gilyov wrote that he was finally in hospital but felt “very bad”.

Alongside Valery Gilyov's final diary entry he posted a selfie in an oxygen mask
image captionAlongside Valery Gilyov’s final diary entry he posted a selfie in an oxygen mask

“I think he might have been saved,” his son-in-law Viktor Morzhin tells me, remembering how Valery had loved taking his grandsons to taekwondo and hip-hop contests. “I think the health service, the authorities, just weren’t ready for so many patients.”

In that autumn surge of Covid infections, 2,388 people died of the virus in Perm according to the Rosstat state statistics agency. But the excess death data for Perm – the number of people dying above the expected norm – is double that figure for those four months, according to the same source.

Meanwhile, the city government count has only reached 1,869 for the whole of the pandemic.

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