Vladimir Putin is apparently doing a bang-up job in containing the coronavirus. In fact, he has performed spectacularly.
Despite a population of 144 million and having a long border with China, the Russian health ministry has reported only 306 cases of COVID-19. What’s more, Putin has been right on top of the testing issue. Russia has tested more than 133,000 people. With only 306 positive tests, this makes Russia second in the world with the ratio of positive cases to the number of tests. Only tiny UAE has a better ratio.
But before we offer our sincere and heartfelt congratulations to President Putin, maybe we should start looking a little closer at those numbers.
“If they have done that amount of testing, it is remarkably low,” Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at Britain’s University of East Anglia, told ABC News. “But clearly there are both suspicious and non-suspicious explanations for that. I would be very pushed to say that data is false based just on the numbers.”
But in a country where the state has a long history of hiding bad news from its citizens and the outside world, the anomalous figures have triggered suspicions of a cover-up. No solid evidence has so far emerged to support that theory, but even officials have begun to sound the alarm that the official numbers cannot be trusted.
“The number of all the infected is without question higher, but by how much?” Alexey Kurinny, a Communist party lawmaker who sits on the parliament’s health committee, wrote this week. “2 times (minimal) or 10 times?”
There’s no such thing as a “whistleblower” in Putin’s Russia. You blow the whistle, you disappear. But what if the numbers are right and the virus hasn’t spread much to the general population?
The virus’ growth in Russia now appears to be picking up speed– the official total which had been growing at two or three cases a-day has leapt by over 150 since Friday. The country recorded its first death of a person with the virus on Thursday, a 79-year-old woman in Moscow. The government has moved to impose tougher measures, introducing a state of heightened readiness for the whole country and closing its borders to all foreigners until May 1. In Moscow, schools are closed and there are reports authorities are discussing locking down the city. Outside Moscow, the authorities have begun building a 500-person hospital to house coronavirus patients.
There are a lot of factors that would suggest Putin and his government are lying — not the least of which is history itself. An examination of the Russian government’s response during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is instructive. Not only did the government lie to its own people about a matter of life and death, but they lied to their neighbors who were also at risk and the rest of the world. They even lied to themselves.
It wasn’t until many years later that we discovered the truth about the accident. And there are many other incidents that the Russian government chose to hide from their people and the rest of us.
If those numbers are accurate, there must be some environmental factors that are preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Otherwise, we may have to wait 30 years to get the whole truth.