Coronavirus: Reported spike in pneumonia cases in Moscow as Russia accuses critics of fake news

'I have a feeling they are lying to us,' says doctor's union chief

Tom Embury-Dennis
Saturday 21 March 2020 11:36
Comments
Coronavirus: Harrowing footage from Italy hospital showing A+E overrun with coronavirus patients

A reported spike in pneumonia cases in Moscow is fuelling fears about the accuracy of official coronavirus data in Russia.

The country of 144 million has reported just 253 cases, far fewer than in many other European countries with smaller populations.

The figures have led some doctors to question how far the official data reflects reality, given what they say is Russia's patchy nature and quality of testing.

“I have a feeling they (the authorities) are lying to us,” said Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of Russia's Doctor's Alliance trade union.

The government says its statistics are accurate, however, and president Vladimir Putin has complained Russia is being targeted by fake news to sow panic.

The number of cases of pneumonia, which can be caused by coronavirus, increased by 37 per cent in Moscow year-on-year in January, according to Rosstat, Russia's statistics agency.

The data showed that the Russian capital, which has 98 confirmed cases of coronavirus, recorded 6,921 pneumonia cases in January, up from 5,058 the previous year. Nationwide pneumonia cases also spiked by over 3 per cent year-on-year.

Yet Moscow's own health department issued a statement on 13 March saying pneumonia cases in January and February were actually 8 per cent and 7 per cent lower than last year.

It did not respond when asked why its data was so different.

Asked about the discrepancy, Rosstat said it did not know where Moscow's health department was sourcing its numbers or how it could have produced such a result.

“The idea that this pneumonia is coronavirus comes to mind,” said Dr Vasilyeva. “There seem to be no other reasons for the rise,” she said.

Other doctors disagree.

“There is an explanation for this,” said Professor Vladimir Nikoforov, a prominent specialist in infectious diseases.

“The number of people seeking medical attention has risen due to anxiety among the population,” he said, saying people were seeking medical advice earlier than usual because they were worried about coronavirus.

There were therefore more pneumonia diagnoses, he said.

Some Russians who recall the Soviet-era cover-up of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident are less sure.

“I don't believe the coronavirus numbers,” said Ekaterina, a Moscow accountant. “I remember what they told us about Chernobyl at the time. It's only now that we're finding out what really happened.”

On Thursday, Moscow authorities reported Russia's first coronavirus-related death, a 79-year old woman, but later said she'd died of a blood clot. The government did not include her death in its daily coronavirus bulletin.

Mr Putin's fake news claims came amid a European Union (EU) analysis which concluded Russia state media and news outlets were waging a disinformation campaign aimed at undermining public confidence in the ability of European health care systems to cope with the coronavirus.

The report, seen by The Associated Press, said EU experts noted nearly 80 instances of virus-related disinformation in about the last two months, including claims the Covid-19 virus was a Western-made biological weapon.

“The campaign is designed to exacerbate confusion, panic, and fear, and to prevent people from accessing reliable information about the virus and public safety provisions,” states the report, which was compiled by the EU communications division assigned to counter false information.

The EU experts pointed the finger at news outlets Russia Today, Sputnik, Oriental Review, Geopolitica and others. As examples of false reports, they cited stories saying Covid-19 was less harmful than the flu, developed by the US, brought into Europe by migrants or exacerbated by taking ibuprofen to relieve symptoms.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in