Mortality data from St Petersburg has reignited questions about Russia’s official Covid-19 death toll

A view of the burning Rostral column and St. Catherina's Church (R) in central St. Petersburg, Russia. EPA-EFE/ANATOLY MALTSEV

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New mortality data from Russia’s second-largest city has reignited questions about whether the country’s official tally has discounted thousands of deaths tied to the coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday,  Russia reported 8,726 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, pushing the total number of infections to 449,834.

Officials said 144 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official nationwide death toll to 5,528.

St Petersburg issued 1,552 more death certificates this May than in the previous year, a nearly 32% rise that indicates that hundreds of deaths tied to the pandemic are not reflected in the city’s official coronavirus death toll for the month of 171.

It is not clear how many of those people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus or were suspected to have been infected. But statisticians and doctors have previously told the Guardian that 75% or higher of “excess deaths”, the number of deaths exceeding what would regularly be expected, are likely to be tied to the coronavirus outbreak. That means potentially 1,000 additional deaths in St Petersburg in May tied to the pandemic.

The new data, released by the city on Wednesday and first reported by Reuters, further indicates how Russia’s conservative account of its coronavirus death toll may be missing out thousands of deaths, while feeding political talking points and informing policy decisions about tackling the outbreak and reopening the country.

Russia has reported a 1.2% mortality rate from the disease, while Brazil and the US have reported higher than 5.6% and 5.8%, respectively, according to Johns Hopkins University. France posted a 15.4% mortality rate and Italy has posted a 14.4% mortality rate. But experts have said that comparing national mortality rates is misleading when reporting standards vary widely and that excess deaths are likely to give a clearer picture of the death toll from the disease.

Read more via The Guardian

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