Putin fiddles, while Rome burns...

There can be few sights more ironic than Russian troops arriving on the outskirts of Rome In an effort to assist Italy in dealing with the world's deadliest coronavirus outbreak. Russia has dispatched seven military aircraft packed with medical specialists, testing devices, sanitation units and much more in its "From Russia With Love" aid package.

This taxpayer-funded largesse may, however, be better deployed at home in Russia, where evidence is emerging of a coronavirus "cover-up".

The momentum is high and a serious situation is unfolding... The real number of those who are sick is significantly higher than official numbers indicate... The fact is that testing volume is very low, and no one on earth knows the real picture.

Sergei Sobyanin, Mayor of Moscow and head of Russia’s official coronavirus response body

Whilst Russia reported its first coronavirus death last Thursday, a 79-year old woman with underlying health issues, the number of reported cases remains suspiciously low.

Anastasia Vasilyeva, the head of Russia's Alliance of Doctors trade union, has called on Russian doctors to go public with information about the "true" state of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

She claimed Russian authorities were referring to coronavirus cases as "ordinary pneumonia", as opposed to the coronavirus pandemic.

"While the whole world is facing an outbreak of a new coronavirus, Russia is facing an outbreak of a community-acquired pneumonia," Vasilyeva said, "and as usual, we're facing the lies of the authorities."

In January, Moscow reported a 37% increase in pneumonia cases. Authorities explained that this was due to a more "pro-active" screening programme.

"We receive information from medical workers in the regions. ... Hospital beds are full with these, supposedly, pneumonia cases patients," Vasilyeva said.

Her claims prompted the Moscow Department of Health to call upon the security services to open an investigation into her.

Her concerns are shared by Moscow hospital chief Denis Protsenko, who warned Putin that Russia needs to "prepare for the Italian scenario."

There are nine people in intensive care, but none of them is in critical condition. We can’t stop patients from escaping — what are we going to do? Twist their arms behind their backs? We talk to them, but they don’t hear us and they don’t understand that they’re walking biological weapons.

Dr. Denis Protsenko, chief physician of Moscow's City Clinical Hospital Number 40

Protseko believes that stopping the spread of coronavirus in Moscow will require "draconian prevention measures," and that the capital should be temporarily closed for quarantine.

Russia's hospitals.

Staff at Moscow's 9th medical diagnostic centre, including doctors, were ordered to sew last week received orders to sew their own medical masks, Russian media has reported. However, no materials or time have been allocated for this activity.

Recent cost-cutting exercises have also created a shortage of hospital beds that has led to problems even before coronavirus is factored into the equation.

In some regions, a few years ago, the number of infectious wards was cut in half. It was done “to facilitate a more rational distribution of resources” — in other words, they were just economising. Ultimately, the wards are packed in the fall and winter and then we don’t have enough beds as it is. Now imagine what’ll happen if you add in the extraseasonal factor of the coronavirus. Adding more beds will be much, much harder than it was 5 – 8 years ago... There’s not enough personal protection equipment for workers. They don’t have enough additional protective equipment for the coronavirus either. In some places, there’s not enough... they’re handing out homemade gauze masks and telling the workers to wash used ones themselves.

Andrey Konoval, Russian healthcare union leader.

Against this backdrop, whilst maintaining the story that all is under control, Russia is rapidly building new hospitals, and appears to have heeded the advice of Dr. Protseko by closing down cinemas, nightclubs and children’s play areas.

Putin himself is under round the clock protection, and all Kremlin staff involved in any of his activities are being regularly tested. The coronavirus pandemic may be his chance to demonstrate the effectiveness of an autocratic state.

However, many Russians now realise the situation is far worse than the government is admitting, and some are drawing comparisons to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, when the Soviet government was slow to admit the scale of the problem.

Read also: Putin postpones vote on allowing him to remain in power

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon


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