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Russia resolves to recognize a very high excess mortality

On December 17, during his annual press conference, Vladimir Putin congratulated himself on the good behavior of his country in the face of the coronavirus ordeal. Russia, he said, is doing “Better” than some of the countries boasting of a more developed health system. About ten days later, the Russian authorities recognize a less glowing evidence: the main indicator by which Russia stands out – its low mortality – has in fact very little to do with reality.

On Monday, December 28, the Russian statistical agency Rosstat reported an excess of mortality between January and November of 229,700 deaths compared to the same period of 2019, an increase of 13.8%. “More than 81% of this increase in mortality over this period is due to Covid and its consequences”, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of health, Tatiana Golikova, indicated in the process.

This finding brings the death toll from the Covid to a figure of around 186,000, i.e. between three and four times more than the officially admitted toll on that date of 54,559 deaths. However, it is this latter figure, updated daily, which remains used in international comparisons and is used by the World Health Organization (WHO).

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It comes from a particularly restrictive way of counting deaths. Moscow only lists patients who died in hospital, with several positive tests carried out during their lifetime, and for which an autopsy confirms that SARS-CoV-2 is the main cause of death. At the same time, the Rosstat agency carries out another accountancy, that of deceased persons “With the Covid”, and not exclusively “Of the Covid”. But these latest figures, communicated monthly with discretion, are far from explaining the significant excess mortality in Russia.

Third in the world

This discrepancy became evident – and arguably too conspicuous – as the mortality data fell month after month. For the month of November alone, the excess mortality compared to the same month of 2019 reached 78,541 deaths, when official statistics list 12,468 deaths from the Covid, or six times less.

There is no indication that the Russian authorities intend to change their counting methods in the future, but this outburst of sincerity puts the success of the Russian healthcare system into perspective. Statistics revised by Mme Golikova place Russia third in the world in terms of number of deaths, behind the United States (more than 330,000 deaths) and Brazil (more than 190,000). They imply a mortality rate of the disease well above the world average (2.18%) and much higher than that posted until then.

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