The head of Russia's consumer protection and well-being agency, Anna Popova, warned on May 24 of increased COVID-19 death rates even as official figures show a slight easing in daily infections since peak counts around two weeks ago.
Her statements, on state television's Voskresny Vecher (Sunday Evening) program, followed news of Russia's highest one-day coronavirus death toll, 153, but also the lowest number of new infections in three weeks.
"The number of coronavirus-related deaths will go up and, regrettably, it is evident today," TASS quoted Popova, who heads Rosptrebnadzor, the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Well-Being, as saying. "It is a typical situation for all countries: the peak of coronavirus fatalities follows the peak of daily incidence; it comes after."
Russia’s comparatively low mortality rate has been questioned by experts, with some suggesting the country’s government may be underreporting virus-related deaths and manipulating the statistics.
Russia has the third-largest number of registered coronavirus infections at almost 344,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, behind only the United States (1.6 million) and Brazil (more than 347,000).
The national coronavirus task force said on May 24 that 3,541 people in Russia have died from the virus, an increase of 153. The previous high was 150.
The number of new infection cases was 8,599. Daily infection tallies of more than 11,000 were reported for several days in May.
There have been a number of prominent cases of Russians dying of "pneumonia," a frequent symptom of COVID-19.
More than one-third of doctors working with coronavirus patients in Russia have received “instructions” to manipulate statistics on the COVID-19 outbreak, a poll conducted in the first half of May suggested.
The results showed that nearly 36 percent of the doctors involved answered “yes” to the question: “Are you given instructions to code cases of confirmed COVID-induced pneumonia with codes that will allow you to adjust the rates of infection and death?”
The coding system is used to attribute the cause of a patient's death.
On Russian TV on May 24, Popova rejected reports that Russia was underreporting its fatality figures during the pandemic.
"We are among the few country, the only country making diagnosis on the basis of autopsy results of all fatalities. This is our rule. It excludes any possible errors," she said.
Popova added that the country had "managed to prevent an overloading of medical groups and the public health system."
Three doctors who complained of inadequate personal protection equipment or other crises for medical professionals were reported to have fallen from building windows in April and May, at least two of them fatally.
Russian medical professionals who distrust the official tallies launched a list online of colleagues who have died during the pandemic that now has more than 250 names.
President Vladimir Putin this week acknowledged an acute coronavirus problem facing the southern Republic of Daghestan, where a local religious leader recently described the situation as a "catastrophe."
The speaker of the local parliament in another southern Russian republic, Chechnya, on May 23 rejected Russian media reports that republican leader Ramzan Kadyrov had been taken to a Moscow clinic with suspected COVID-19 symptoms.