Moscow is being questioned over whether it is hiding the actual number of coronavirus cases as people recall its past notoriety over the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.
In a country of 17 million square kilometres and with a population of 144 million, Russia has recorded 438 positive cases of coronavirus.
The number produced by Moscow has raised questions and fears of a cover up. Even some doctors and health professionals have expressed concerns over the official count and the real estimated count of positive cases.
According to Rosstat, Russia’s statistics agency, compared to last year, the number of pneumonia cases has increased by 37 percent in Moscow in January
The sharp increase in pneumonia cases is fuelling debate whether the Russian government is hiding anything.
The data showed that the Russian capital, which has 98 confirmed cases of coronavirus, recorded 6,921 pneumonia cases in January, up from 5,058 the previous year. And nationwide pneumonia cases also spiked by over 3 percent year-on-year.
However, Moscow’s own health department issued a statement on March 13 saying pneumonia cases in January and February were actually 8 percent and 7 percent lower than last year.
Cover up claims
Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of Russia’s Doctor’s Alliance trade union, said: “I have a feeling they [the authorities] are lying to us,” over the coronavirus cases.
“The idea that this pneumonia is coronavirus comes to mind,” said Vasilyeva. “There seem to be no other reasons for the rise.”
On the other hand, Professor Vladimir Nikoforov, a prominent specialist in infectious diseases, said that there is an explanation for this issue.
“The number of people seeking medical attention has risen due to anxiety among the population,” Nikoforov said which means people’s worries increase the number of pneumonia cases.
Some Russians, who recall the Soviet-era cover-up of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, are less sure.
“I don’t believe the coronavirus numbers,” said Ekaterina, a Moscow accountant. “I remember what they told us about Chernobyl at the time. It’s only now that we’re finding out what really happened.”
On Thursday, Moscow authorities reported Russia’s first coronavirus-related death, a 79-year old woman, but later said she’d died of a blood clot. The government did not include her death in its daily coronavirus bulletin.
Inconsistency in the test kits
Another questioned issue is the sensitivity of the testing system which is produced by Vector, in Novosibirsk.
The first confirmed coronavirus patient David Berov has said on his personal Instagram account that his first and third tests were positive while the second was negative.
The inconsistency of the virus tests is also being questioned by the Russian public.
Berov wrote: "The virus was confirmed in my third test, it was not seen in my blood but was in my saliva," on March 5.
"As I was told, they could barely see it so that's why they were in doubt for so long."
Despite allegations, Russian authorities insist on the accuracy of Russian figures over coronavirus.
Misinformation campaign debate
Russian media has reportedly deployed a “significant disinformation campaign” against the West on the impact of the coronavirus, generating panic and sowing distrust, according to a European Union.
“The overarching aim of Kremlin disinformation is to aggravate the public health crisis in Western countries...in line with the Kremlin’s broader strategy of attempting to subvert European societies,” the document produced by the EU’s foreign policy arm, the European External Action Service, said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed to what he said was the lack of specific examples or links to a specific media outlet in the EU document.
“We’re talking again about some unfounded allegations which in the current situation are probably the result of an anti-Russian obsession,” said Peskov.