Staunton, May 19 – The number of those in Russia infected with the coronavirus continues to rise, but the powers that be have ordered that the mortality rate must be only one percent, Mikhail Tamm of the Higher School of Economics says; anyone who reported higher numbers or challenged government figures is being punished (svoboda.org/a/30619087.html).
“If someone had not decided that we needed to tell the entire world about the record low mortality from the coronavirus, the real Russian figures would be something in which one could almost take pride,” the scholar continues; but “instead of this, we decided that our mortality rate would be one percent and journalists began to be threatened.”
That pattern has not only increased skepticism among Russians about everything Moscow is saying about the pandemic and other things besides but it has led many to conclude that the situation is far worse than it likely is, with one writer saying that “we have a situation just like that in the US but only later and worse” (forum-msk.org/material/news/16459874.html).
As a result, Russians are more frightened than they would be if officials were being honest with them. According to a new VTsIOM poll, 60 percent of them fear that they or their relatives will become infected, and 31 percent will lose their jobs or see their incomes fall significantly (iarex.ru/news/75242.html).
Today, the number of new infections was 9263, the fourth day in a row in which they were under 10,000. But the total number of cases has now reached 299,941 (kavpolit.com/articles/v_rossii_za_sutki_vyjavleno_9263_zarazivshihsja_ko-38656/). But if testing were more widespread, perhaps as many as 10 million infections would be found (echo.msk.ru/blog/aav/2644925-echo/).
Russia’s GDP fell by 28 percent in April with government revenues falling by at least that much, a major reason why the Kremlin has sought to declare victory and reopen the economy as quickly as it has, even though premature re-opening may lead to more infections and deaths (rbc.ru/economics/19/05/2020/5ec1a2bb9a79471ed0de4175 and rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/05/19/1844203.html).
Regional heads who have to make that choice are under enormous and competing pressure to protect the population and bring the economy back. Not surprisingly some are swinging in one direction and then another. Sverdlovsk Oblast head Yevgeny Kuivashev, for example, announced reopening and then closed many things down again (politsovet.ru/66485-nehoroshiy-signal-kak-gubernator-kuyvashev-poobeschal-no-ne-otkryl-tc.html).
One consequence of decisions having to be made at the regional level is that distortions in statistics are likely being introduced there with those governors who want to reopen flattening the curve on their own while those who don’t are allowing more accurate figures to be distributed and sent upward (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/05/18/85423-vserossiyskiy-falstart).
Among the federal subjects particularly hard hit and where popular anger is highest is Daghestan. To try to calm the situation, Vladimir Putin held a video conference with the republic’s leaders and heads of social organizations last night. It is unclear whether his action calmed or alarmed people (nazaccent.ru/content/33144-vladimir-putin-obsudil-situaciyu-s-koronavirusom.html).
Although the pandemic is continuing, many are looking beyond it. Some say that the restrictions now being put in place will continue afterwards to help the regime control the population, but others predict massive protests (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/05/19/85438-vek-svobody-ne-vidat and regnum.ru/news/society/2954503.html).
Perhaps most intriguingly, some are saying the pandemic crisis may have an upside in forcing Russia to change its reliance on oil and gas exports and instead develop a diverse domestic economy that can export finished goods rather than only raw materials (echo.msk.ru/blog/nikolaev_i/2645191-echo/).
Meanwhile, other pandemic-related developments in Russia included:
· Russian activists have joined others from around the world to collect the names of those doctors and other medical workers so to be in a position to honor those who have died fighting the coronavirus. As of today, there were more than 240 names on their list (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/05/19/85439-geroev-ne-nazyvayut).
· Demobilized soldiers returning to Russian-occupied Crimea are bringing the virus with them and may infect the peninsula’s civilian population (qha.com.ua/ru/po-polochkam/soldat-vernetsya-s-covidom-ty-tolko-zhdi-primusovij-prizov-pid-chas-pandemiyi-zagrozhuye-zhittyu-i-zdorov-yu-molodih-krimchan/).
· Medical experts say that the situation even in Moscow’s hospitals is not anything like what the media portray. Instead, they suggest, breakdowns and shortages and other inefficiencies have turned what should be places where people can get help into “nightmares” (regnum.ru/news/society/2954328.html).
· Property prices in Russia are generally declining during the pandemic but there are some exceptions, like houses far from cities, where prices are rising because of increasing demand (regnum.ru/news/economy/2953075.html).
· Deaths from the pandemic have reignited a debate among Russian specialists as to what price should be put on human lives so that the courts can calculate compensation (polit.ru/article/2020/05/19/coronacost/).
· Businesses are pressuring the government to change the labor code so that they can fire workers more rapidly than had been the case before the pandemic (ura.news/articles/1036280241).
· A third mufti in the North Caucasus has become infected with the coronavirus, as the disease moves through the ranks of Muslim leaders in a fashion similar to but not quite as fast as through those of the Russian Orthodox clergy (doshdu.com/tretij-muftij-na-severnom-kavkaze-zabolel-koronavirusom/).
· Because of the stress of self-isolation, job loss, and fear of infection, demands for the services of psychologists in Russia has shot up 69 percent since the beginning of the pandemic (iz.ru/1012584/ekaterina-iasakova/stress-karantirovan-spros-na-psikhologov-vo-vremia-pandemii-vyros-na-69).
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