President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged a "complicated" situation in Russia's southern republic of Daghestan after a local mufti described the region's battle against COVID-19 as a "catastrophe."
In a virtual conference with Daghestani officials on May 18, Putin said the "danger of coronavirus infection remains throughout the country, and the situation in Daghestan is not easy now."
He said that "experts" suggested that "the late treatment of patients for medical care, as well as self-medication at home" were exacerbating the problem in the republic, which is home to about 3 million people.
More than 3,400 people in Daghestan had been infected with the coronavirus, 29 of them fatally, according to official figures early on May 18.
But many observers, and some Russian officials, question the veracity of the country's official tallies.
The Daghestani health minister, Dzhamaludin Gadzhiibragimov, has acknowledged that more than 650 more people not counted as COVID-19 victims have died from "community-acquired pneumonia."
They include around 40 doctors and nurses.
Putin said that Daghestan's health-care system was under a "heavy burden" and added that "people also say that the necessary medical care is not always and not everywhere can be received on time and in full."
"We need to further analyze how the recommendations of sanitary doctors on the regime of self-isolation, on the limitation of mass events, are also being implemented," the Russian leader added.
The head of a patient-monitoring group told RFE/RL's Current Time recently that "all hospitals are overcrowded" in Daghestan and cited acute shortages of protective equipment and problems diagnosing COVID-19.
Daghestan's top mufti, Akhmad Abdulayev, told Putin via video link on May 18 that "the scope of the catastrophe is forcing us to appeal to you," according to AFP. "Please devote your attention to Daghestan."
Putin repeated Islamic leaders' calls for people in the heavily Muslim republic to celebrate at home Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Russia has been accused of lowering its coronavirus mortality rates by ascribing deaths to pneumonia.
The country has more than 290,000 registered cases of COVID-19 but only 2,722 deaths by May 18, placing it fairly low in terms of death rates around the world.
Doctors have reported being overwhelmed and frustrated at the lack of medical supplies.
Republican head Vladimir Vasiliev on May 18 reportedly defended Daghestan's official coronavirus statistics but pledged to "clarify" the death toll among medical professionals.