Russian statistics soar for virus-linked deaths in 2020

International

People walk towards the main building of the Moscow State University in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Students of Moscow’s Universities returned to continued their studies on site. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia issued updated statistics Monday on coronavirus-linked deaths which showed that 162,429 people with COVID-19 died last year, a number far higher than previously reported by government officials.

The state statistics agency, Rosstat, released its figures for December on Monday, updating its count of coronavirus-linked deaths that includes cases where the virus wasn’t the main cause of death and where the virus was suspected but not confirmed.

Out of more than 162,000 deaths between April and December, 86,498 were directly caused by confirmed COVID-19; 17,470 other deaths were likely caused by the virus, but it wasn’tt confirmed by a test. In 13,524 cases, the virus “significantly” contributed to fatal complications of other diseases, and 44,937 people tested positive for the virus but died of other causes.

Rosstat’s count is much higher than the tally reported by the Russian government’s coronavirus task force, which is reflected in the numbers released by the World Health Organization. By Jan. 1, the task force reported a total 57,555 deaths.

As of Monday, the number stood at 77,068.

Russian officials ascribe that to different counting methods, saying the task force only includes deaths where COVID-19 was the main cause.

Officials also said the task force uses data from medical facilities while Rosstat takes its numbers from civil registry offices where registering a death is finalized.

December accounted for the highest number of Russian deaths since April — 44,435, according to Rosstat. That’s when new coronavirus infections in Russia soared and officials regularly reported over 27,000 daily new cases.

The agency’s data also showed that the number of deaths from all causes in 2020 grew by 323,800, or nearly 18%, compared to 2019.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said 31% of these excess deaths in 2020 were those caused by “clearly diagnosed” COVID-19.

“Counting those who died from other causes but tested positive for COVID, (deaths of people with COVID-19 constitute) 50% of excess mortality in 2020,” Golikova said.

Rosstat’s count is much higher than the 77,068 deaths that have been reported by the Russian government’s coronavirus task force so far, including deaths that occurred in January and February. Russian officials ascribe the differences between the numbers reported by the task force and Rosstat to different counting methods, saying the task force only includes deaths where COVID-19 was the main cause.

Officials also said the task force uses data collected from medical facilities, while Rosstat takes its numbers from civil registry offices where registering a death is finalized.

Rosstat started releasing detailed monthly updates on virus-linked deaths in June, after the task force’s relatively low death count raised eyebrows in the West as Russia’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases became one of the world’s largest.

Critics and Western media alleged back then that Russian authorities might have been falsifying the numbers for political purposes to downplay the scale of the outbreak, accusations that officials vehemently denied. The Kremlin credited the government’s response measures for Russia’s low COVID-19 mortality, and experts cited the way Russia counts virus deaths as one of the reasons behind the relatively low reported number of virus deaths.

Russia has reported more than 3.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases, the fifth highest tally in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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