Russia’s Vladimir Putin recently finagled constitutional amendments to permit him to run for two more terms (though he said that it should be a temporary constitutional change that covers only him).

Now that he has effectively sewn up his position as president until 2036, Russia is finally starting to reveal more fully the extent of its coronavirus infections.  Russia is apparently still claiming that they’ve had no Wuhan coronavirus-related deaths.

Russian authorities are now admitting, however, that there may be more cases in the country than is currently known, including in Moscow, where it is said to be much worse than it looks.

Reuters reports:

The mayor of Moscow told President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the number of coronavirus cases in the Russian capital far exceeded the official figures, as Putin donned a protective suit and respirator to visit a hospital.

The comments by Sergei Sobyanin, a close ally of Putin, were authorities’ strongest indcation yet that they do not have a full grasp of how widely the virus has spread throughout Russia’s vast expanse.

Russia has so far reported 495 cases of the virus and one death, far fewer than major western European countries.

Putin has previously said the situation is under control, but some doctors have questioned how far official data reflect reality, and the government on Tuesday closed nightclubs, cinemas and children’s entertainment centres to slow the spread of the virus.

“A serious situation is unfolding,” Sobyanin told Putin at a meeting, saying the real number of cases was unclear but that they were increasing quickly.

Testing for the virus was scarce, he said, and many Muscovites returning from abroad were self-isolating at home or in holiday cottages in the countryside, and not being tested.

“In reality, there are significantly more sick people,” Sobyanin said.

One of the reasons for scarcity of information (apart from Russia being Russia) is reportedly the lack of testing.

The AP reports:

Russian authorities acknowledged Tuesday that a low number of coronavirus cases in the country could be a result of insufficient screening and warned that the nation must brace for the worst.

President Vladimir Putin donned a yellow protective suit to visit the top Moscow hospital treating coronavirus patients and conferred with officials on how to stem the outbreak. Hospital chief Denis Protsenko told Putin the country needs to “prepare for the Italian scenario.”

Russia has reported 495 cases and no deaths. Critics have argued for weeks that the numbers are too low for a country with a 2,600-mile border with China, blaming a low level of testing and a long tradition of hiding unpleasant truths.

. . . . Some have accused the government of manipulating the statistics to downplay the coronavirus threat in order to prevent panic and ram the constitutional vote through at any cost.

“They themselves don’t know how many actual cases they have, because testing is of such low quality” said Anastasia Vasilyeva, a doctor for Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and leader of the Alliance of Doctors union.

Vasilyeva and some others pointed at a 37% increase in pneumonia cases in Moscow in January as a sign that the figure could include some unreported coronavirus cases.

“We receive information from medical workers in the regions. … Hospital beds are full with these, supposedly, pneumonia cases patients,” she said.

The authorities have denied tweaking or concealing coronavirus statistics and argued that the increase in pneumonia cases could have been explained by a more proactive screening for pneumonia this year.

Officials have ranted about “fake news” of covered-up deaths and said that those spreading them could face criminal charges. On Tuesday, Vasilyeva said the police were investigating her for claiming the government was manipulating statistics.

[Featured image via YouTube]


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