Russia hit a grim Covid-19 milestone this week: According to Johns Hopkins University, the country now ranks second in the world for confirmed corona virus cases.
The Russian capital has been hardest hit. Of Russia’s total of 281,752 confirmed cases, over half — 142,824 — are in Moscow. But the virus is now spreading across Russia’s regions, an enormous landmass that covers 11 time zones and includes some of the country’s most remote and impoverished places.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the burden would fall to local leaders to decide whether to continue lockdown measures or to begin cautiously lifting restrictions to reopen the economy.
“We have a big country,” he said. “The epidemiological situation varies across the regions. We have to act even more specifically and carefully.”
According to official statistics, the pandemic has reached all of Russia’s constituent parts; Russia’s regions are also starting to report their own numbers, sometimes showing a disparity between the nationally published statistics on mortality and infections published on the stopcoronavirus.rf portal and on local government websites.
Russian Vice-Premier Tatiana Golikova said that the government has not manipulated statistics, but Russia’s mortality figures have become a political football. Observers have noted the comparatively low overall number of deaths in Russia — a total that currently stands at 2,631, according to the country’s corona virus headquarters — even as the country takes second place in the world for the number of confirmed cases, behind the United States.
In Moscow, health officials hit back at media reports that it was underreporting Covid-19 fatalities, saying its data was “absolutely open.” But the city’s health department also acknowledged that it only counts deaths that were found through post-mortem autopsy to have been caused directly by corona virus complications.
Earlier this week, Putin announced a gradual easing of restrictions around the country, at the discretion of local leadership. But Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin subsequently made clear he was in no rush to end lockdown.
“Premature removal of restrictions carries a real risk of a second pandemic,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Unjustified delays will also hit people in the strongest way.”
As cases began to pick up pace in April, Moscow authorities opened a new corona virus hospital, built in around a month. And Sobyanin’s government oversaw the introduction of electronic passes to enforce lockdown measures, controversial measures ahead of the rest of the country. The city is also launching a large corona virus screening program that will be free to the public.
Moscow, in many ways, is better equipped to deal with the crisis than Russia’s less well-off regions.