Russia's COVID-19 fatality counting ways have come into question as its official death toll of 6,948 is comparatively far below many other countries that rank under Russia in the total confirmed cases. Having reported about 529,000 coronavirus infections, Russia stands behind only the United States and Brazil.

This seems paradoxical and had led to allegations and doubts expressed by experts and Western media. World Health Organization (WHO) official has also said that the low number of deaths in Russia was certainly unusual.

Russian authorities have criticized media reports that said Russia's coronavirus death toll could be much higher than government official numbers. "We have never manipulated the official statistics," Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said, as reported by the Associated Press.

One Such Case

SARS-CoV-2
SARS-CoV-2 Pixabay

Last month, Sergei died in a Moscow hospital after 11 days on a ventilator. His death certificate listed that his death was not caused by Coronavirus, even though he had. COVID-19, in this case, was considered only as an underlying condition.

Sergei's son Leonid Shlykov wrote a Facebook post which said that his father was suffering from impaired kidney function and diabetes, "But if it hadn't been for COVID-19, he would've been alive." If his family had knowledge about the real number of infections and deaths in Russia, Shlykov said, it would have helped them to decide on hospitalizing his dad sooner.

Russian Method

In each confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 in the country, an autopsy is mandatory, thereby determining the cause of death, said Dr. Natalia Belitchenko, a pathologist in the medical examiner's office in a region of St. Petersburg.

Dealing with coronavirus deaths daily, she said only about 20 percent of them were attributed to COVID-19. In other cases, coronavirus was determined to be an underlying condition. Among the majority of cases, pneumonia by itself wouldn't have caused death, but underlying conditions would get flared up making it fatal, she told the Associated Press.

Manipulating Clues

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits hospital
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits hospital Twitter Grab/ @Brasco_Aad

Southwestern Russia's Lipetsk region governor, telling his subordinates about changing the numbers, was recorded. He said that "otherwise our region will be judged poorly." Siberia's Altai task force posted an update on new cases that contained the words "for approval" addressing the provincial governor. Soon after noticing, they erased those words on social media.

What Experts Say?

Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program said that Russian authorities better review their method of death certification to reassure themselves in an appropriate way.

Data analysts have said that inconsistencies in Russian coronavirus statistics point at manipulations. "I don't trust official statistics, and I believe I have reasons not to," Boris Ovchinnikov, who is the director of a Moscow-based Data research agency, said. However, the agency had no other good alternative to assess the real situation.

Other Reasons

Alexei Raksha, an independent demographer said, some of them buried their relatives without reporting to the civil registration office. Less COVID-19 deaths could be due to non-frequent travel in the vast country and its low population density and lower social mobility could be reasons, he said. Owing to low life expectancy compared to West, there were fewer elderly targets for the novel coronavirus, he added.