Russia has been much slower to react to the coronavirus pandemic than other developed nations. The country is currently reporting around 221,000 confirmed cases and just over 2,000 deaths. However, getting data out of the country has been a nightmare as Russian officials are reportedly trying to downplay the severity of the spread. Last week, the country reported the largest increase in cases on record, with over 11,000 new infections in just 24 hours.
We’re slowly peeling back the curtain in terms of how Russia is responding to the pandemic, but a new trend has many health officials worried that the country is still not doing enough to contain the virus. We zero in on another peculiar string of incidents in the country as well: Three healthcare providers have mysteriously fallen to their deaths since the outbreak began.
So, what’s going on?
What We Know About the Russian Response to the Pandemic
Russia currently has one of the fastest growing infection rates in the world, right behind the U.S., yet it also has one of the lowest mortality rates. Around just 0.9% of infected patients have died from the disease known as COVID-19.
Many have accused the nation of underreporting the number of virus cases and deaths, but health officials maintain they are trying to keep an accurate count. The Health Ministry in Russia does not automatically assume that someone died from COVID-19 just because they tested positive. Some believe the actual death toll could be as much as 233% higher than what’s been reported in the news.
For example, in one rural Russian province, officials state that just three people have died from the virus. However, another seven people in the area had tested positive for COVID-19, then died from other causes. This means the area could have lost ten people to the virus, yet only three deaths went towards the official death count.
Accurately counting the number of coronavirus deaths will help officials better trace and limit the spread of the disease. The World Health Organization has published complete guidelines for classifying coronavirus deaths to help nations unify their efforts. However, every country needs to decide for itself how it’s going to count the number of virus-related deaths.
Why Are Doctors Taking Their Own Lives?
The world was horrified to hear reports of three different healthcare providers falling out of hospital windows in Russia. Many facilities are being overrun with virus patients as staff members fight for access to personal protective equipment.
The first instance took place on April 24th in a small town outside of Moscow. Dr. Natalia Lebedeva, the head of the ER unit, jumped out of the window after an outbreak of the virus among hospital staff. Local authorities apparently tried to blame the outbreak on Lebedeva. She was so upset, she decided to take her own life.
Administrators ended up labeling the incident as an unfortunate accident. For the Russian Government, blaming Lebedeva may have been easier than taking responsibility for the lack of PPE among staff members.
The second incident took place in late April when Yelena Nepomnyashchaya died after falling from her fifth-floor office window. She worked as the head of a local veterans’ hospital. The Health Ministry reportedly tried to convert a portion of the facility into a makeshift COVID-19 ward, but Nepomnyashchaya protested due to the lack of protective equipment. Tragically, the next day, she was dead.
The last incident involves a Russian ambulance driver named Alexander Shulepov. He took to social media with one of his colleagues to complain about being forced to work despite having tested positive for the virus. A little while later, Shulepov posted another video of him apologizing for the previous video, saying he wasn’t forced to work and that he was just being emotional after receiving his test results. The next day, he was found outside the hospital with a fractured skull. Administrators say he must have been smoking by a second-story window, but it’s not clear if it was an accident, suicide, or a case of foul play.
Based on these heart-wrenching stories, speaking out against the Russian government may get some providers into trouble. The country has a long history of silencing its critics and adversaries, but it’s not clear exactly why or how these providers died on the job.
These tragic deaths may have been the result of poor coronavirus planning, or the stress of the job may have been more than these providers could handle. Not having enough protective gear or asking workers that have tested positive for the virus to stay on the job can push some providers to the breaking point.
Getting information in and out of the country remains difficult, but we should learn more about what’s been happening on the ground in the near future.