Mortality during the COVID-19 epidemic in Russia

Marina Lifshits,
Institute of Economics, Urals Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences,

There are two reliable sources of information which provide information about mortality from the COVID-19 epidemic in Russia. They are the “Memory List”[i] of medical workers died in the pandemic and data from the Rosstat[ii] on the total number of deaths by month and year (the dynamics of the Rosstat statistics can also be viewed on the EMISS[iii] site).

The official data[iv] on cases and deaths from COVID-19 are understated several times and have no relation to reality. There are several reasons for this fact. 1) There was a shortage of tests in the early months. 2) The quality of the tests was extremely low. It is quite typical: several family members were sick, but only one of them tested positive for the virus. 3) It seems that in some regions the authorities deliberately underestimated the results. 4) People were reluctant to test on their own initiative, because they saw that if the results of their tests were positive, the problems were guaranteed, while help was optional.

In general, a negative attitude towards the quite adequate recommendations of the authorities regarding behavior during the pandemic dominated among the population. Many people believed the fakes that there was no pandemic, COVID-19 were no more dangerous than the influenza, masks and vaccinations did more harm than good, and that keeping a social distance was a «restriction of freedom». In turn, the authorities were reluctant to impose lockdowns for fear of harming the economy and displeasing the population. As a consequence, the medical system periodically collapsed in a number of regions, that led to high epidemic mortality.

In the first months of the epidemic, due to poor management, health care themselves were the sites of infection, and the proportion of deaths from COVID-19 was very high among health care workers because there was a lack of personal protective equipment. The number of deaths among medical workers was particularly high in May and June 2020.

The Memory List can be considered a reliable source because the name of each dead is known. The age of death, region, position, and place of employment are listed. Almost all names are accompanied by references. In most cases, one can find information about the date and the circumstances of death. The list consists of two parts: those who died in Russia and “colleagues from other countries,” mostly from the CIS. Further, we discuss just about the Russian part of the Memory List.

The Memory List appeared on April 30, 2020. As of May 10, it contained 147 people, more than half of whom died in April, and two even in late March (in Moscow and the Komi Republic). Further the situation changed in the following way: on May 29 there were 311 names, July 3 – 526, July 31 – 620, September 2 – 671, October 3 – 703, November 3 – 796, December 2 – 934, January 16 – 1033, February 26 – 1153, March 16 – 1243, April 23 – 1353. The list was updated quite often in the first months of the pandemic, but in 2021 approximately once a month. The median age of the deceased medical workers was 59 years old.

When analyzing Rosstat data on the number of deaths, it is necessary to take into account the dynamics of the available population. From 1960 to 2019, the largest increase in the number of deaths compared to the previous year was in 1993: 321.898 or 20.3 %. This was happening in the context of a huge influx of people due to the collapse of the USSR, and not all of the arrivals were counted in the statistics.

However, for the 12 months of 2020, 319.574 more people (18.1%) died in Russia (excluding occupied Crimea) than in 2019, and this occurred in the context of a sharp decline in the available population due to the outflow of migrants and deaths from the epidemic. According to official data, the total population (without Crimea) decreased in 2020 by 627,385 people, and the number of women by 327,445 (it is a record), since the proportion of women among the elderly in Russia is high.

From May to December of 2020, the increase in the number of deaths (without the Crimea) was 352.963 (30.6%), and for January-March 2021 another 122.279 (27.1%). Thus, there were at least 475.342 victims of the epidemic in Russia. Regardless of whether they died from COVID-19 or due to the collapse of the medical system. It is no exaggeration to call this result catastrophic.

Something strange is happening with vaccinations. Health care workers are the main risk group, so their vaccination began back in October 2020. [v]  However, the Memorial List continues to fill up at a high rate. It is unclear whether Russian vaccines are not too effective, or there are not enough of them even for medical workers. Thus, the increase in the number of deaths from the epidemic will continue.




[iv] https://xn--80aesfpebagmfblc0a.xn--p1ai/


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