Only a month ago at the end of March, Vladimir Putin boasted to his nation that thanks to decisive measures taken by his administration, Russia had avoided being caught up in the coronavirus pandemic. However, in the last few weeks, the country has seen an explosion in infections, and now has overtaken China with over 90,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. According to statistics provided by the Russian authorities, only 867 people have died, meaning that currently the country has a mortality rate of less than one percent from the killer virus.
By way of contrast, Germany, a country considered to have implemented a successful coronavirus strategy and which boasts one of the most modern and well-funded healthcare systems in the world, has a death rate approaching four percent.
Dr Anastasia Vasilyeva, a founding member of the Doctors’ Alliance trade union, dismissed the Kremlin’s figures as ‘not true’.
She told Express.co.uk that doctors had been ordered to attribute deaths caused by COVID-19 to other ailments, such as coronary heart disease.
However, there has been no official clarification from Russia’s medical industry about whether this is true.
The former eye specialist said: “Head doctors have an order to not write down the mortality diagnosis of coronavirus pneumonia.
“They are really writing down other diagnoses, cardiovascular, a lot of other diseases that a person has. So that is why these statistics are not true.
“We understand that statistics in Russia is really – they can rule the statistic as they want, to influence the brains of the population of Russia.”
She added: “I know about it because my relatives and friends are working now in Moscow hospitals, in Saint Petersburg and in other towns and cities – nobody says about this situation and on state TV they say everything is good and under control.”
Dr Vasilyeva believes that the coronavirus outbreak will also inevitably lead to large increase of deaths from other serious illnesses, that will go undiagnosed and untreated.
She explained: “We will never know the truth about the quantity of deaths, about the mortality, even not from coronavirus but from other diseases – cardiovascular and neurological diseases and so on – they are also still occurring.
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“Patients are really suffering from these diseases, they are suffering at home because there is no place to treat them and nobody to treat them. The mortality from other diseases will increase.”
The union leader feared that Russia’s regions would be particularly hard hit by the pandemic, owing to the lack of medical resources in provincial centres, a result of chronic under-investment in the healthcare system by the Putin administration over the past 15 years.
She said: “In the Russian regions there are no medical facilities, not enough medical staff, not enough clinics or hospitals, medicines and equipment.
“In some hospitals even before coronavirus infection the medical staff wasn’t able to have medicine and protection even in tuberculosis clinics.”
The union leader claimed that doctors were too afraid to speak out about the hopeless situation they face, fearing that they could lose their jobs as a consequence.
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However, government documents seen by Express.co.uk show the desperate struggle by regional administrations to access vital medical supplies and protective equipment for hospital staff.
In an assessment of the problems facing the healthcare system in Russia’s regions, the Ministry of Emergencies wrote that “there was an acute shortage” of ventilators, with hospitals told that they would have to wait anywhere between two to six months for orders to be delivered.
In one instance the Tomsk region was told by the Ministry of Industry and Trade that “there is no medical equipment and there is no production capacity yet”.
Other regional authorities were informed that they would have to wait up to three months for the delivery of supplies of personal protective clothing.
Russia spends just 3 percent of GDP on its health service, while most western European countries invest around 9 percent of GDP in the health sector.
Moreover, Putin’s government has been pursuing a so-called “optimisation” programme of medical services, which has led to severe cutbacks and the supressing of wages for doctors and nurses.
In one of his key pledges during the 2012 presidential elections, Putin promised to double and even triple doctors’ salaries, something he has spectacularly failed to deliver on.
Russian doctors working in state hospitals earn on average around just £520 a month according to surveys by medical unions, and often work long unpaid overtime hours, while ambulance drivers and nurses can earn as little as £100 a month.
As a result of the low wages and working conditions, every year some 10 percent of doctors leave the healthcare profession, which has led to a shortage of more than 25,000 medical staff, with the regions often worse off.
Putin said in a televised statement Tuesday that Russia will “face a new and grueling phase of the pandemic”.
He said: “The daily increase in cases has relatively stabilized, but this mustn’t calm us down, the situation is still very serious.
“The peak is not behind us, we are about to face a new and grueling phase of the pandemic… the deadly threat of the virus remains.”
Putin also said Russia will extend its self-isolation guidelines through May 11.
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