Virus-Hit Russia Reports 25 Percent Death Increase in January-March

MOSCOW—Russia’s state statistical service says the number of deaths nationwide in the first three months of 2021 was more than 25 percent higher than the same period a year ago, and it reported thousands more deaths due to COVID-19 in March than tallied by the country’s coronavirus task force.

More than 583,000 people died in January-March of this year in Russia, compared with 460,000 for those same months in 2020, the Rosstat agency said in a report issued Friday.

The agency did not provide an explanation for the sharply higher death toll, but critics have suggested that Russian officials underplay the severity of the pandemic in the country.

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People, some of them wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, are reflected in a marble wall of an underpass as they walk in Moscow, Russia, on April 19, 2021. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo)

The national coronavirus task force counted more than 12,300 deaths from COVID-19 in March, but Rosstat gave a substantially higher number. The agency said there were 15,003 deaths that month in which coronavirus was the leading cause, along with 2,454 cases in which COVID-19 was believed to be the leading cause and 1,401 deaths in which COVID-19 influenced other diseases and accelerated death.

According to the task force, throughout the pandemic, 110,502 people have died in Russia of COVID-19 as of Saturday—392 of them in the past day. The country has recorded more than 4.8 million confirmed cases.

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Communist party supporters gather with red flags to mark Labour Day, also known as May Day near Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on May 1, 2021. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo)

Although Russia has boasted of being the first country to authorize a coronavirus vaccine—the Russian-made Sputnik V—the pace of its vaccination program is lagging well behind many other countries.

Only about 8 percent of Russians have gotten at least one vaccine shot, while 5 percent have been fully vaccinated. That puts Russia far behind Britain, where 50 percent of the population has gotten at least one shot; the United States at 43 percent and the European Union with nearly 27 percent.

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