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Coronavirus is reportedly 16 times more fatal for healthcare workers in Russia than in other countries

Source: Mediazona

Russia has faced criticism at home and abroad for its remarkably low coronavirus mortality rate. State officials have even threatened to revoke the accreditation of journalists from The New York Times and The Financial Times after those two newspapers published evidence suggesting that the Russian authorities are underreporting fatalities caused by COVID-19. In a new report about coronavirus deaths among medical workers, however, the website Mediazona demonstrates how Russia’s low coronavirus mortality rate isn’t all rosy if taken at face value: it would mean one in every 15 COVID-19 deaths in Russia is a medical worker, making the disease 16 times deadlier for healthcare providers than in six other countries with similar coronavirus outbreaks. 

The investigation is based largely on the number of deaths recorded among medical workers on a crowdsourced “in memoriam” list. (For information about how this list is populated, see Meduza’s interview in late April with one of the doctors behind the initiative.) As of May 18, the list contained 222 names, though Mediazona was able to verify the deaths of only 165 of these people. To corroborate the medical workers’ deaths, journalists checked social media, news reports, statements by hospital and health officials, and spoke to friends and relatives. 

In addition to the “in memoriam” list, Mediazona confirmed another handful of deaths among medical workers based on statements from health officials in Dagestan and elsewhere, arriving at a total number of 186 coronavirus fatalities among Russia’s medical workers.

Two-thirds of the deaths Mediazona verified were in the four regions of Russia hit hardest by coronavirus: Moscow, the Moscow region, St. Petersburg, and Dagestan. Officially, Dagestan has acknowledged the deaths of 40 medical workers, the Moscow region says 16 have died from COVID-19, St. Petersburg has confirmed 14 deaths, and Moscow city officials have declined to comment. Among medical workers, nurses are the most likely to contract COVID-19 and die. More than one in five of the fatalities Mediazona confirmed was a nurse.

At the time Mediazona published its report, Russia had confirmed just 2,864 deaths from COVID-19 — by far the lowest mortality rate among countries with large numbers of coronavirus cases. 

Mediazona concludes that the only two rational explanations for the abnormally high lethality of coronavirus among Russia’s medical workers is (1) Russia’s mortality statistics are inaccurate and COVID-19 is actually killing more people, or (2) a lack of PPE makes healthcare work in Russia especially dangerous. As the journalists point out, there is evidence supporting both possibilities, from questionable coding methodologies to widespread reports about protective gear shortages. Due to a lack of transparency from Russian health officials and regulators, however, it’s hard to know more about medical workers’ situation during the pandemic.

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Summary by Kevin Rothrock

Cover photo: Pixabay