Official figures may underestimate scale of Covid-19 spread in Russia – Moscow mayor to Putin

There are a number of theories for why Russia appears to have gotten off relatively lightly from the coronavirus pandemic, so far. Some cite early border closures, others pure luck and a small fringe allege there’s a cover-up.

Meeting with Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said the country’s official data may not be wholly accurate. He noted that many cases had not been tested, and urged the president to take more robust measures to battle Covid-19. 

“The momentum is high, and a serious situation is emerging,” he told Putin. “The fact is that the test coverage is very low, and nobody in the world knows the real picture.” According to Sobyanin, there are currently two people in critical condition.

As the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases skyrockets throughout the world, many Russians feel the numbers just don’t seem to add up on the home front. Even though the country has a far larger population than Italy, Germany, France, and Britain and despite a 4,200km border with China, Russia has only 495 cases, including 290 in Moscow. Meanwhile, the Italians alone have over 63,000.

The mayor told Putin that many of those who returned from abroad did not get tested but went instead into self-isolation. It is unknown how many of them were infected.

To battle the spread of coronavirus, Sobyanin – in his other role as head of the State council’s Covid-19 task force – announced a new set of instructions for other parts of the country. The plan includes making sure there is the correct number of hospital beds and ventilators in each area of the country. He also stated that “not all regions understand” how to deal with the virus. 

“All regions, without exception — regardless of whether they have patients or no patients — everyone needs to prepare,” he said.

Sobyanin further explained that it is vital to enforce a nationwide quarantine on Russia’s elderly. According to him, the healthcare “system will fail” without such measures. 

The Mayor’s words are unlikely to comfort those who believe the government’s response to the crisis has been inadequate. Despite numerous rumors of an Italian-style lockdown, Moscow authorities have repeatedly refuted that such quarantine is even possible, and have also refused to close the metro. 

Compared to many major European cities, the Russian capital has taken a relaxed approach to the virus. However, one thing is crystal clear from today’s televised meeting — Sobyanin does understand that COVID-19 is very, very serious.

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