Politics Regional

Covid-19: fears about reliability of official coronavirus data provided by Moscow

A stated increase in pneumonia cases in Moscow is fueling worries regarding the accuracy and reliability of official coronavirus information in the Russian federation. For a while, Russia of 144 million has stated only 253 cases, that was significantly less than other countries suffering from COVID-19 which population is smaller.

Such data have made some medical professionals and ordinary people to doubt the picture offered by Russian officials. “I’ve got a feeling our government is lying to us,” explained head of Russia’s Doctor’s Alliance trade union, Anastasia Vasilyeva.

At the same time the Russian government claims its figures are correct. Vladimir Putin has stated Russia is now being targeted by fake information to spread panic. The quantity of cases of pneumonia, which may be a result of coronavirus, increased by 37 % in the Russian capital year-on-year in Jan, in accordance with the Russian Rosstat. The info demonstrated that the Russian capital, that had 98 established cases of coronavirus, recorded 6,921 pneumonia cases in Jan, up from 5,058 the previous year. Moscow’s health department made its announcement on 13 March stating pneumonia cases in January and February were actually 8 % and 7 % lower than a year ago. It made no response when requested why its information was so different. Rosstat said it did not know the data source of Moscow’s health department.

“It comes to mind first of all the idea that this pneumonia is Covid-19,” explained Dr Vasilyeva. “There seem to be no other reasons for the rise,” she said.

Other medical professionals have different opinion. A well-known specialist in infectious diseases professor Vladimir Nikoforov stated: “There is an explanation for this.” “The number of persons looking for medical assistance has increased because of anxiety among the people,” he stated, and “individuals were looking for health advice sooner than usually mainly because they were concerned with coronavirus. Therefore, there were much more pneumonia diagnoses,” he explained.

Meanwhile some Russians who still remember the Soviet-time display of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear tragedy are much less confident. “I don’t believe the coronavirus cases,” said an accountant from Moscow, Ekaterina. “Because I remember what they told us about Chernobyl accident at that time. It’s only now that we may know the truth and what really happened there.”

On Thursday, Moscow authorities informed on Russia’s first coronavirus death. It was a 79-year old woman, but later they changed their mind saying cause of her death was a blood clot. They simply did not count her death as caused by coronavirus.

Mr Putin’s fake news statements emerged amid a European Union assessment which stated Russia state controlled media and news agencies were actually provoking a disinformation campaign targeted at shattering confidence of ordinary Europeans in the potential of European health care systems and methods to deal with COVID-19.

The specified report, drawn by the EU communications division charged to counter false information, mentioned that EU experts documented nearly 80 different reports containing false, fake or even misleading information about coronavirus published by official Russian state media sites, platforms, news outlets and authors having close ties to the Kremlin. 

The document says: “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”.

The EU experts state that such Russian news outlets as Russia Today, Sputnik, Oriental Review, Geopolitica are involved in the disinformation campaign. In this regard they mention information distributed by Russian news outlets. For example, narratives that Covid-19 was less harmful than the flu, developed by the US, brought into Europe by migrants.

Many other European experts support the opinion that Russia is actively using Covid-19 to spread panic and conduct disinformation campaigns. According Agnieszka Legucka representing the Polish Institute of International Affairs, Russian foreign broadcasters have many possibilities and resources to conduct disinformation coronavirus campaign: “Since the beginning of 2020, they have also been spreading disinformation about the coronavirus with the aim of inducing distrust in public institutions and aggravating the public health crisis in the EU.” She thinks that Russian disinformation is still a tool to break the peace and the order in Europe… Therefore the EU should be ready for a long-term disinformation campaign.

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