On May 11, the New York Times ran a story which claimed to have solved the “mystery” of Russia’s relatively lower death rate from Covid-19, which is below the world average. Citing official statistics, the paper noted that Moscow’s number of overall deaths in April exceeded its five-year average for the same period by more than 1,700. Together with the city’s official death toll from Covid-19 – just 642 at the time – this indicted “significant underreporting” by the authorities, the NYT said.
On Monday, the paper published a letter by Moscow’s top health official, Alexey Khripun, who said the figures alone “do not disclose the cause of death and vary widely in any event,” adding that the Russian capital saw 11,846 more deaths in April, an increase of 1,841 over April 2019 – but of only 985 for the same month in 2018. Also, only 639 of the April 2020 deaths were “attributable to Covid-19,” Khripun wrote.
“We perform an autopsy in every case, and therefore we are confident in the accuracy of our data. An increase in mortality rates is natural with an increase of acute respiratory viral infections, which aggravate the underlying illnesses.”
“But even if all the additional deaths for April in Moscow were attributed to the coronavirus, Moscow’s death rate for Covid-19 would be lower than the rates in New York and London,” Khripun said.
The Russian Embassy in the US claims that the NYT has “refused” to publish comparative statistics to illustrate Khripun’s point. On its Facebook page, it posted what it calls “the sorrowful comparative statistics for Moscow, New York City and London censored out.”
Moscow has repeatedly slammed the Western media for their “inaccurate” coverage of Russia’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and for accusing the authorities of underreporting the death toll without providing sufficient evidence.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg News published a story titled ‘Experts Want to Know Why Coronavirus Hasn’t Killed More Russians’. The title quickly sparked a backlash online and was called “horrendous” by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
Following the outrage, Bloomberg changed the title of the piece to ‘Experts Question Why Coronavirus Hasn’t Killed More Russians’, and later to ‘Experts Question Russian Data on Covid-19 Death Toll’.