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4 Dec, 2020 11:17

Official death toll compared to excess mortality: With so many confusing statistics, just how well is Russia coping with Covid-19?

Official death toll compared to excess mortality: With so many confusing statistics, just how well is Russia coping with Covid-19?

Russian Covid-19 statistics are a nightmare to decode. Different numbers from various government bodies and excess mortality figures that dwarf them all make it hard to figure out how the world’s largest country has really coped.

Thus, the version you read usually depends on the bias of the outlet, or person, making the claim. Government officials could use the lower official data, and Western media outlets and various social media information warriors, for instance, prefer to emphasize the excess deaths, even if not all of them, clearly, are down to the virus itself.

This issue is not just plaguing Russia, but nations all around the globe. In the United Kingdom, there are two different numbers published online – deaths within 28 days of a positive test, and deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate. In some countries, like Australia, the entire summer saw a lack of standardization between states and the federal government, with those who tested positive for the virus, but died of another cause, not being listed as a Covid-19 fatality in the official national statistics.

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Russia’s coronavirus counting issues are well-publicized. As first reported by the Pussy Riot-founded outlet Mediazona, the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) recorded 106,000 overall excess deaths between April and September 2020, compared to the average for this period over the past five years. According to Rosstat’s coronavirus-specific figure, just half of them – around 55,000 – died with Covid-19.  However, according to the official Covid HQ, run by Rospotrebnadzor, the country’s health watchdog, just 20,698 people passed away due to the virus. Much of the discrepancy can be explained by counting methods, with Rosstat’s figure also including those who died from complications of other diseases.

A quick glance at September’s Rosstat page can only add to the confusion. The service notes that 4,329 Russians died with Covid-19 as the main cause of death, 1,401 with the virus as a concomitant disease, and 3,198 with a positive test, which “did not in any way affect the onset of death.” A further 870 fatalities are thought to have been caused by coronavirus, but “more medical research is needed.”

Statistics for October and November are yet to be published.

Certain parts of Russia, such as Chelyabinsk Region in the Ural Mountains, are independently reporting their own statistics. As of December 3, the region’s website reports a total of 319 deaths from coronavirus, with an extra 598 Covid-19-positive deaths blamed on a different cause.

While questioning the statistics, demographer Alexey Raksha told Mediazona that not all excess deaths can be directly attributed to Covid-19. Many are down to an overburdened healthcare system, such as planned surgeries being postponed as emergency wards are struggling to cope.

On Monday, another article published by Mediazona claimed a Ministry of Health source had proven that 74,866 people died in beds allocated for coronavirus patients from March 31 to November 22. According to official Rospotrebnadzor data, as of December 3, 41,607 have passed away.

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On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the government has repeatedly explained that there are different methodologies for calculating and determining the cause of death, highlighting the fact that President Vladimir Putin receives all the possible figures.

“I can only say that the president clearly receives all the full information about indicators and diseases, medical services, bed occupancy by region, and mortality,” he told reporters.

Russia is not alone in having its official death total lower than excess deaths. For example, in the UK, the official government death total sits at 59,699, but the country hit 70,000 excess deaths on November 17. Per capita, this means Russia has fared far better than Britain.

Still, with statistical discrepancies in mind, Russia is doing quite well compared to much of the world. According to official numbers, at 41,607 deaths, Russia has 285 fatalities per million of population, below the likes of Israel (314), Ireland (418), and Austria (392). If the country’s fatalities were multiplied by 2.75, as the Rosstat numbers suggest, Russia would still be doing better than Brazil (819), France (824), and the US (843). It’s also likely, of course, that all of these countries may be underestimating the true death toll, whether by accident or design.

However, in comparison with the best-performing nations, Moscow has handled the virus rather poorly. Other countries such as South Korea (10), and New Zealand (5) are doing far better, assuming their numbers are accurate. When it comes to these states, not even the most generous Russian statistics can compete.

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