Russia Passes 60K Coronavirus Deaths

Russia surpassed 60,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths Thursday, according to daily official figures.

National task force figures showed 506 new deaths and 23,541 infections detected in the past 24 hours. Autopsy-based statistics suggest the official death toll is a fraction of the true number.

A total of 3,332,142 cases and 60,457 fatalities have been registered in Russia since the start of the pandemic, around half of Russia’s state statistics agency Rosstat’s own estimate of 116,000 coronavirus-related deaths, not including December fatalities.

Medics, statisticians and demographers have questioned Russia’s official Covid-19 fatality numbers since the start of the outbreak in spring, suggesting an effort to downplay its impact.

Rosstat also recorded almost 230,000 more deaths in January-November than during the same period in 2019. Authorities say 81%, or 186,000, fatalities resulted from the virus.

That excess mortality, seen as a more reliable indicator of how many people could have succumbed to the virus, would put Russia in third place for Covid-19 deaths in the world. Task force figures put Russia in eighth place for total Covid-19 deaths.

President Vladimir Putin has for months played up Russia’s lower death rate compared to western countries as the Kremlin resisted reintroducing nationwide lockdowns that battered the economy during the first wave.

The second wave of the coronavirus this fall and winter has hit Russia hard, including regions outside Moscow with underfunded healthcare systems.

Over the New Year holidays, Russia recorded around 5,000 fewer daily Covid-19 cases from a peak of nearly 30,000 on Christmas Eve. Health officials say the rate of infection has stabilized, though experts attribute the drop to fewer tests and expect a rebound in the coming weeks.

Russia Overturns Doctor’s High-Profile Malpractice Sentence

A Moscow court has overturned the guilty verdict against Yelena Misyurina, the doctor whose conviction in a high-profile medical negligence case sparked national controversy.

Misyurina, 46, was sentenced to two years in prison in January 2018 over a botched bone marrow biopsy in July 2013 that damaged a patient’s blood vessels, leading to his death. Russia’s medical community led a viral campaign on social media to call for her release and wider reforms, while figures including Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin expressed concern over her case.

The Moscow City Court ruled Thursday to overturn the malpractice verdict and terminate Misyurina’s criminal case due to lack of proof, Interfax reported.

Russian doctors can end up behind bars for medical mistakes. In Western countries, a medical expert panel decides on doctors’ punishments, which usually leads to temporary suspension or being barred from practicing altogether.

Russia Outlaws Seizing Pets from People in Debt

Russian animal rights activists on Wednesday welcomed a ban on the seizure of pets as an official means of pressuring people in debt to pay bailiffs.

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, passed legislation on Tuesday banning the practice that was occasionally used in the same way as the confiscation of furniture or real estate.

Yury Koretskikh, head of the Alliance of Animal Defenders, said even “the possibility of confiscating an animal for debts was absolutely blasphemous.”

“A living being must not become a hostage for settling financial questions,” he told AFP.

In a note attached to the bill, its authors explained that “the authorities and organizations carrying out the removal of animals often do not have the necessary resources to keep them.”

They said this “can be classified as a criminal offense — cruel treatment of animals.”

And added that the new legislation defines an animal as “not an object, but a living being which experiences emotions, including pain.”

State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, who supported the legislation, added that the ban “will prevent the tragedies that can take place if bailiffs take away an animal.”

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