The stream of articles suggesting that Russia is covering up its Corona numbers has increased from a stream to a veritable flood:
- CBC: Russia’s coronavirus count under scrutiny as Putin government denies hiding cases
- Moscow Times: Russia Says It Has Very Few Coronavirus Cases. The Numbers Don’t Tell the Full Story.
- Reuters: Sharp increase in Moscow pneumonia cases fuels fears over coronavirus statistics
- Business Insider: Doctors in Russia are accusing the government of covering up its coronavirus outbreak and denying them protective equipment
- CNN: Why does Russia, population 146 million, have fewer coronavirus cases than Luxembourg?
- Financial Times: Vladimir Putin keeps political plan on track despite virus crisis
Let’s take a look at that last article, written by FT’s Henry Foy today, and one of the more balanced (read: less PDS-afflicted) journalists doing the Russia beat (not to mention the most prominent in the above sample, having scored an exclusive interview with Putin in 2019).
“The present number of patients with coronavirus will be hidden from us,” said Anastasia Vasilieva, chairman of Doctors’ Alliance, a Russian lobby group affiliated with opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
Now Foy, to his credit, at least has the journalistic integrity to acknowledge that this doctors’ group (which I have never heard of before now) is affiliated with Navalny, whose entire shtick is to oppose everything and anything the Kremlin does.
A political tilt that its chairwoman helpfully confirms:
“The value of human life for our president is nil . . . We don’t want to admit to any pandemic,” said Ms Vasilieva. “We know of hospitals that are completely full and nurses who are asked to sew face masks from gauze.”
But otherwise it follows the usual template on Russia COVID-19 coverage.
She claimed Moscow was instead classifying cases of the virus as pneumonia, the incidence of which increased by almost 40 per cent in January compared with a year previously, government data showed.
The aim here is to insinuate that there was a raging coronavirus epidemic camouflaged as the flu from as early as January 2020.
Oh Corona, where to start.
1. Flu mortality fluctuates wildly season to season by a factor of as high as 4x. So this is a perfectly meaningless fact from the outset.
2. Even China’s epidemic only broke 1,000 cases in January 25. Where were Russians getting infected??
3. If this was true, it is Russia, not Italy, that would be the center of the COVID-19 epidemic now – something that would certainly be noticed, e.g. in overflowing hospitals (no sign of that to date) or in exported cases (but that was all China in February, and predominantly Italy, Iran, and other EU nations now). It is Britons that Vietnam has started barring ten days ago, not Russians.
Here’s what I guess happened. People got agitated by reports from China, and were more likely to consult doctors, producing more flu diagnoses. Even though the actual chance of Russians having COVID-19 in January if they hadn’t been to Wuhan was on the order of a meteorite hitting them on the head.
While other foreign leaders have steeled their citizens for a long crisis and have spoken of a “war” against the pandemic, Mr Putin has played down the threat and urged citizens to remain calm in an effort to minimise panic — and ensure the nationwide ballot on April 22 takes place. …
“The virus is a challenge and comes at a very bad moment for him,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R. Politik, a political analyst. “Putin doesn’t want to postpone and is insisting that the referendum takes place as soon as possible . . . The longer they wait, the more risks will appear.”
LOL. Trump was saying Corona was fake news/nothingburger up until the end of February.
The US epidemic (22k cases) is about two orders of magnitude more advanced than Russia’s (306 cases), but most states have continued to hold primaries for the Dem nomination.
And in any case Putin has allowed the possibility that the April 22 Constitutional Referendum may be postponed. There’s no indication it’s a hard, immovable date.
At the same time, Mr Putin has sought to project an image of control, continuing with his diary of local visits and meetings with senior officials, shaking hands and never wearing a face mask.
Although it would be nice for Putin to set a better example, this is the rule, internationally – not the exception. Stressing this is so petty, LOL.
“No matter what happens in the next 35 days, they have to lie, hush up, and deny. It doesn’t matter at all what really will happen to coronavirus in Russia, whether there will be a moderate outbreak or tens of thousands are killed,” said Igor Pitsyn, a doctor in Yaroslavl, a city 250km north-east of Moscow.
“By Putin’s decree all information about this is declared a state secret until April 22 . . . This ‘nationwide vote’ will be held at all costs.”
First time I hear of this. Searching “путин коронавирус гостайна” doesn’t produce any relevant results. This doctor must have some very high placed sources.
Or perhaps Foy had to travel all the way to Yaroslavl to get a sufficiently juicy quote.
While officials have cited the low number as proof of the success of swiftly closing its border with China in January and steadily cutting flights to affected countries, experts have questioned how the country has proved far more immune than almost any other. … Neighbouring Belarus has five times more infections per capita than Russia, and France, which has roughly half Russia’s population, has more than 50 times the number of cases.
Russia doesn’t have large numbers of Gastarbeiters in the EU, unlike Belarus. Our Belorussian commenters also tell us that there are next to no control measures in place.
But Ukraine has perhaps 20x more Gastarbeiters in the EU than Belarus, and yet 2 days ago reported only 1/3 as many Corona cases (16 vs. 51). Which suggests where Western journalists covering Eastern Europe should really focus their attention.
If they, you know, cared about the Corona situation in Eastern Europe. As opposed to promoting the US line that Russia bad and China bad.
Incidentally, an update on Ukraine, two days after my alarm-raising article, in which I suggested that it’s likely there’s a big cluster developing undetected in Ukraine.
Even though testing in Ukraine remains extremely patchy – even in per capita terms, its ~500 tests are two orders of magnitude lower than Russia’s ~150k, or for that matter Belarus’ ~16k – the past two days have seen a surge of new cases from 16 to 41. The majority of those cases, some 25 of them, are concentrated in Chernivtsi oblast, which also saw the death of a 33 year old woman from existing problems magnified by the coronavirus.
The unlikelihood of such a mortality profile, coupled with the flood of new cases despite continued low testing rates, strongly suggests that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that a cluster is developing in Chernivtsi oblast.
There’s a reason Chernivtsi has so many cases – large # of people go to Italy for work.
An acquaintance of mine from there confirmed his business partner just tested positive for the virus.
But just in case you think I am piling on to Ukraine because of my own political obsessions you would be mistaken.
I will say that after Ukraine, probably the second biggest undetected Corona timebomb in Europe may be Serbia. Unfortunately, the Wikipedia page on COVID-19 testing doesn’t have information for Serbia. However, one of my Serbian friends on Thursday wrote me that:
We are still testing around 50 per day, with 1/5 being positive…
So both the intensity of testing and the rate of positives is similar to Ukraine.
This Friday, he continued:
We still have competent health care workers (the decision not to test the wider population is purely political, as was the decision no to close schools until 5 days ago), relatively functioning health care system, about 1500 respirators on a population that is 7+ million.
On the other hand, we have the second lowest reported total test volume anywhere in the world, after Malorossiya :), at 545 total as of this morning, one of the highest positive rates per 1000 tests (after Italy, Spain, Ecuador and the Philippines). We have seen an influx of over 250 000 gastarbeiters from Western Europe in the past 10 days… Many people are breaking the 14 day mandatory self isolation. When I say many, I’m talking about thousands every day…
We have 3 things potentially on our side. God, warmth, and Sun. Or it’s all just God? 🙂
And to think that Serbia was one of the first countries in the world to eradicate smallpox in the 1830s… Under the lifelong illiterate knyaz Miloš…
The large number of Gastarbeiters in Western Europe, most of whom are now going to be let go, is another similarity that Serbia shares with Ukraine. And is something that will be a very problematic issue going forwards.
Fortunately, it appears that China (and Russia) are going to bail Serbia out with test kits.
Extraordinary address the president of Serbia, the largest #EU membership candidate now banned from importing medical kit. "European solidarity does not exist. It was a fairy-tale…the only country who can help us out of this difficult situation is China." #coronavirus https://t.co/JTbtPCS6NK
— Bojan Pancevski (@bopanc) March 16, 2020
Despite their rather different geopolitical viewpoints, European attitudes to both Serbia and the Ukraine are quite similar. They are to be exploited to the extent they are useful; otherwise discarded as needed. It’s a lesson they should mull over.