A vaccination centre in Moscow, Russia, January 18 2021 Picture: REUTERS/SHAMIL ZHUMATOV
A vaccination centre in Moscow, Russia, January 18 2021 Picture: REUTERS/SHAMIL ZHUMATOV

Moscow — Russia’s death toll from Covid-19 in 2020 was nearly three times the level generally cited by the government, catapulting its total number of fatalities from the pandemic to the third-most globally.

Russia’s federal statistics service reported 44,435 deaths linked to Covid-19 in December in a statement on Monday, lifting the full-year total to 162,429. The government’s virus response centre, which provides daily updates, reported 57,555 Covid-19 deaths in 2020.

In total, 2,124,479 Russians died in 2020, nearly 324,000 more than the previous year, according to the statistics service. Deaths in December were 63% higher than in the same month in 2019.

The data demonstrates that the fallout from the coronavirus has been far worse than officials initially reported, even as President Vladimir Putin resisted locking down the country during the second, more severe wave of infections that started in the autumn. Only the US and Brazil reported more pandemic deaths in 2020.

December was the deadliest month for Russia, deputy prime minister Tatyana Golikova said in a televised briefing on Monday. Preliminary data for January shows “a steady decline in mortality rates” alongside a reduction in infections, she said.

Russia’s population shrank overall by nearly 700,000 people in 2020, the statistics service reported, more than twice the decline registered in 2019 and the highest shrinkage since 2005.

The figures are a blow to Putin’s long-held goal of reversing Russia’s demographic decline. He has promoted a series of benefits aimed at increasing the birth rate and has overseen dramatic gains in life expectancy.

Russia has pinned its hopes for taming the pandemic on domestically developed vaccines, with Putin ordering universal access to the inoculation in December, though take-up remains slow. He boasted at a televised meeting on Monday that Russia is the only country in the world with three of its own Covid-19 vaccines.

February or March could be the turning point after which the pandemic could begin to ease, health minister Mikhail Murashko said on January 29, according to Tass news service. The authorities aim to vaccinate about 60% of the adult population in the first half of 2021, he said.

Even before the main Sputnik V vaccine is widely distributed, the infection rate has been falling. New daily cases are down by about a third from their December highs, and some regions have begun to ease restrictions intended to limit the spread of the virus.

In Moscow, mayor Sergei Sobyanin has allowed restaurants and bars to stay open all night and dropped a requirement that employers keep at least 30% of their workers home.

Bloomberg

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