Pandemic in Russia: despite new outbreaks, healthcare system critically unprepared, authorities discussing lifting quarantine restrictions
COVID-19 infections are expected to peak in Russia at the end of April. But epidemiologists say the process has already begun.
During the day on April 9, 1,467 new cases of infection reported, which is 306 more than the day before. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 10,131 cases of coronavirus in 81 regions. 76 people have died, and 698 have recovered.
However, these numbers hardly paint an accurate picture.
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Many suffering from pneumonia have not been tested for coronavirus
Semyon Halperin from the Doctors Defense League told RFE/RL that hospitals in Russia receive a lot of patients with pneumonia and are unable to test them all.
“The situation in Moscow is very serious, there is a huge risk of infection in clinics and emergency rooms of hospitals, where dozens of people with a high fever and cough sit for hours, waiting to be hospitalized.”
RFE/RL also quotes one pulmonologist with 30 years of experience who did not wish to be named:
“I spent one night examining many seriously ill patients in ICU in the Moscow. Almost all had bilateral pneumonia, but none of them have been diagnosed with coronavirus, because they still haven’t taken the COVID-19 test or the results are not ready.”
The fact that most “community transmitted pneumonia” cases are most likely COVID-19 was acknowledged by the head physician of the leading Moscow Kommunarka Hospital Denis Protsenko, who himself was infected with coronavirus and is in self-isolation.
“Isolating patients with community transmitted pneumonia and COVID-19 is practically pointless,” he writes in a post on Facebook.
There is an acute shortage of beds in intensive care units and ventilators
Moscow and the Moscow region lead in the number of cases in the country.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin says that almost 20,000 beds have been allocated throughout the city for patients with coronavirus.
But doctors call the overall state of preparedness “a disaster.”
“Doctors are already experiencing a shortage in protective equipment and medical supplies. The ICU is already crammed full of patients with pneumonia, but many of them still have not been tested for coronavirus,” RF/RLE was informed by a source from Sechenovka Hospital in Moscow.
“What we have are not even medical respirators, but simply a decoration. Nursing staff quickly overheat from the sick. And there is not sufficient air flow or ventilation in the wards.”
“Clinic doctors, therapists and pediatricians are not at all protected by the medical equipment. By order of the Ministry of Health, we have to sew our own masks ourselves! Doctors are forced to be on the front lines and examine patients with their bare hands. Please help!” the doctors wrote in pleas to various funds.
“Delusional” statements by officials and a ban on doctors talking about problems with the healthcare system
The Russian charity foundation Pravmir raised almost 10.5 million rubles [about $ 135 thousand] to help doctors.
They say that they could better help hospitals if they had accurate information.
However, doctors in Russia are prohibited from talking about the shortages publicly, since the official stance is that “everything is fine.”
“Many medical institutions cannot ask for help openly or publish information about their needs due to a ban handed down by their superiors. Information about the shortage is considered to provoke panic,” says Vladimir Berkhin, head of the Predaniye Fund.
President Vladimir Putin promised that those working with coronavirus patients would receive a salary increase. Doctors will receive an additional 80 thousand per month [about $ 1,000] and junior staff will get an extra 25 thousand [about $ 350] a month.
This is a good step, but not enough, says the same pulmonologist who spoke with RFE/RL.
Doctors also say that healthcare officials and authorities clearly do not fully understand the seriousness of the situation.
“For example, Veronika Skvortsova, the former Minister of Health, said that up to four patients could be hooked up to a single ventilator. Yes, there really are four attachment hoses, but it is absolutely impossible to do this: one patient has 80 percent oxygen in the blood, another 60 percent, one weighs 100 kilograms, the other 70, one has a large volume of damaged lung tissue, and the other has less, and etc,” the pulmonologist explains.
“This statement is just a disgrace,” agrees Semyon Halperin. “Patients would immediately lose their brain functioning and become vegetables.”
The total number of ventilators currently in Russia is unknown. Ministry of Health data from the end of 2018 states that there were about 47,106 devices, but their condition and age are unknown, writes news site Vedomosti.
Today, a significant number of them are already being used by patients with various diseases.
Actions taken by authorities
Russia has yet to announce a coronavirus quarantine.
Instead, they have introduced a regime of self-isolation in some regions. However, this concept does not exist anywhere in Russian law.
The right to determine what self-isolation means and to explain the restrictions to the population was handed down to local authorities.
The central government limited its own restrictions to declaring April a non-working month.
The most stringent measures have been taken in Moscow, where the largest number of cases have been reported. All stores are closed, except for grocery and drugstores, government agencies and offices.
Despite the rapid rise of coronavirus cases, President Putin regularly talks about the need to gradually lift isolation restrictions to help stimulate business and the economy.
The pandemic coincided with a sharp drop in the price of oil, which is Russia’s main export commodity.
The government declared April a non-working month, while demanding that employers do not fire employees and continue to pay them wages. As a result, small and medium-sized private companies have been brought to the brink of bankruptcy, and while their operations are suspended, they have no way to pay salaries.
Economists predict that overcoming the inevitable recession will take the country at least two years, and the number of unemployed will rise to 20-25 million people.