Slideshow by photo servicesRussia has taken a dark COVID-19 milestone this week: according to Johns Hopkins University, the country now ranks second in the world for confirmed cases of coronavirus.
The Russian capital was the hardest hit. Of the total of 272,043 confirmed cases in Russia, about half – 138,969 – are in Moscow, according to the headquarters of the country’s coronavirus. But the virus is now spreading across regions of Russia, a huge landmass that spans 11 time zones and includes some of the most remote and poorest places in the country.
In a videoconference meeting on Monday with 85 regional leaders from Russia, President Vladimir Putin said it would be up to local leaders to decide whether to continue the lockdowns or to carefully lift the restrictions to reopen the economy .
“We have a big country,” he said. “The epidemiological situation varies from region to region. We took it into account before, and now, in the next step, we need to be even more precise and careful. “
According to official statistics, the pandemic has reached all parts of Russia, from the Kaliningrad enclave between Poland and Lithuania to the distant autonomous Chrukotka okrug across Bering Strait from Alaska. The regions of Russia are also starting to report their own figures, sometimes showing a disparity between the statistics published at national level on mortality and infections published on the portal stopcoronavirus.rf and on the websites of local governments.
The Kaliningrad region, for example, reported 13 deaths on Friday, while the national headquarters of the coronavirus reported 11. The contrast between national and local death rates was even more striking in the Chelyabinsk region in the mountains of L ‘Urals: local authorities have reported 10 cases related to COVID-19 deaths in addition to the six deaths attributed directly to coronaviruses on the national portal.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova told Russian media this week that the Russian government had not manipulated the statistics, but the death toll in Russia has become political football. Observers have noted the relatively low overall number of deaths in Russia – a total that currently stands at 2,418, according to the country’s coronavirus headquarters – even though the country ranks second in the world for the number of confirmed cases , behind the United States. States.
In Moscow, health officials responded to media reports that he was not reporting the deaths of COVID-19, saying his data was “absolutely open”. But the city’s health department also admitted that it only included deaths that were discovered by post-mortem autopsy and that were directly caused by complications from the coronavirus.
And the capital proceeds with caution. Earlier this week, Putin announced a gradual easing of restrictions across the country, at the discretion of local leaders. But Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin then said he was in no rush to end the foreclosure.
“The premature lifting of restrictions carries a real risk of a second pandemic,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “Unjustified delays will also hit people the hardest. “
In many ways, Sobyanin has been the public face of Russia’s fight against the coronavirus, as Putin takes refuge in his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo.
As cases started to accelerate in April, Moscow authorities opened a new coronavirus hospital, built in about a month. And the Sobyanin government has overseen the introduction of electronic passes to enforce the lockdowns, controversial in the rest of the country. The city is also launching an extensive coronavirus screening program that will be free to the public.
The health system in crisis
Moscow, in many ways, is better equipped to deal with the crisis than the less affluent regions of Russia. It has a concentration of wealth and budgetary resources that is the envy of the rest of the country.
Under Sobyanin, the Russian capital, which was transformed in the pre-coronavirus era into a user-friendly Instagram landscape of renovated parks, trendy restaurants and high-end real estate, experienced a frenzy of municipal spending.
The main business daily Vedomosti reported last year that the city’s budget for beautification projects in the past decade – more than 1.5 trillion rubles ($ 20.5 billion), according to the data. budget for Moscow – was almost equivalent to the total amount spent on similar projects around the country.
You don’t have to travel far from Moscow to see the disparities in living standards and the dilapidated health system.
A viral YouTube video recently published by popular Russian journalist Irina Shikhman showed a visit to the city of Ivanteyevka, a city located just over 16 km outside the city limits of Moscow from a local clinic while ‘she receives a delivery of personal protective equipment. As Shikhman begins the formal interview, a masked doctor says she had “no complaints” about the supplies and had enough staff to care for the patients.
But footage from the video, which had more than 3,327,000 views, shows the peeling paint and poorly lit interior of the facility, and highlights the shocking state of Russia’s provincial healthcare system. It seems that in this sprawling country, time is not the only thing that differs between the capital and the regions.