MOSCOW (Reuters) – The excess mortality in the Russian Federation, recorded by Rosstat between May and July, is more than three times higher than the official mortality data from coronavirus. This discrepancy, according to some experts, casts doubt on the accuracy of counting deaths from coronavirus in Russia.
Despite the fact that Russia has the fourth largest number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the world, the country has a relatively low death rate from COVID-19.
Moscow says that in Russia the cause of death is indicated more accurately than in other countries. Some Russian health officials explain that in many cases, a patient who dies diagnosed with COVID-19 does not die from the coronavirus, but from other causes, including co-morbidities that existed prior to being infected with the coronavirus.
Tatyana Golikova, head of the Operational Headquarters for the Prevention of the Importation and Spread of New Coronavirus Infection in the Russian Federation, told President Vladimir Putin at the end of July that the death rate from coronavirus in Russia “is significantly lower than in a number of other countries.”
But figures released by Rosstat on September 4 show that 57,800 excess deaths were recorded between May and July, at the peak of the outbreak.
This figure was calculated by comparing the three-month mortality rate in 2020 with the average May-July death rate between 2015 and 2019. It is more than three times the official COVID-19 death toll in May-July of 15,955.
Alexei Raksha, a demographer who worked at Rosstat until this summer, said the jump in deaths illustrates the real death toll from COVID-19 and that the authorities have publicly reported only a fraction of those deaths.
“In fact, the death rate in Russia is only slightly different from other countries,” Raksha said.
The Kremlin did not respond to requests for comment on the reasons for the discrepancy between excess mortality and COVID-19-related death statistics, and whether the government is downplaying the actual death toll.
The operational headquarters for the prevention of the import and spread of a new coronavirus infection in the Russian Federation said that it reports daily only on confirmed deaths from the coronavirus, and sent Reuters to revised data from Rosstat, which showed that COVID-19 may be caused by several thousand deaths more than originally reported, as in some cases the cause of death was not established.
“We have repeatedly recorded a lower mortality rate from the new coronavirus in Russia compared to other countries, including in May-July – at 2.8%,” the operational headquarters said.
The excess mortality rate, which some epidemiologists believe is the best way to measure true COVID-19 mortality, given that counting methods vary from country to country, outperforms official COVID-19 deaths in many countries.
In Russia, they are 3.6 times higher than the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the months under consideration. Raksha, along with some politicians, criticized Putin for downplaying the scale of the pandemic.
In absolute terms, the figure of nearly 60,000 excess deaths between May and July is comparable to the UK, which is hardest hit by COVID-19 in Europe. However, Russia's population of 145 million is more than double that of Great Britain.
If in Russia the total number of deaths from COVID-19 was close to 60,000, then, according to Reuters, this means that Russia is in fifth place in terms of deaths from COVID-19, and not 12, as is currently believed.
(Maria Tsvetkova with the participation of Tatiana Gomozova and Gleb Stolyarov. Translated by Alexey Kuzmin. Editor Anna Kozlova)