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World News

COVID deaths spike and beds near capacity in Russia as infected governor sparks anger

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian regional governor’s decision to be treated for COVID-19 in a private Moscow clinic rather than in his own region drew public criticism on Wednesday, as Russia reported a new record daily high of 456 coronavirus-related deaths.

A general view of the temporary hospital in the Krylatskoye Ice Palace, where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated, in Moscow, Russia November 13, 2020. Picture taken November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The disparity in healthcare provision between the Russian capital and other regions is something the Kremlin recognises. It has pumped extra resources into the regions, some of which have complained of shortages of staff, equipment and beds, in an effort to narrow that gap.

But in what some saw as a vote of no confidence in regional healthcare and as a sign that the elite always have access to better facilities than voters, Vladimir Sipyagin, governor of the Vladimir region, said on Facebook late on Tuesday that he had the virus and was being treated in a private Moscow clinic.

He portrayed his decision as an altruistic one, saying he did not want to deprive someone of a hospital bed in his own region, about 180 kilometres (112 miles) east of Moscow.

“There aren’t many free beds there, and there are patients in a much more serious condition than me,” wrote Sipyagin. “For some of our fellow countrymen suffering from COVID-19, hospitalisation does not only preserve health but saves lives.”

“This is selflessness! He is sacrificing himself,” Kira Yarmysh, spokeswoman for opposition politician Alexei Navalny, wrote sarcastically on Twitter.

Asked if Sipyagin should have sought treatment in the region he governs, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was not up to the Kremlin to decide where a person should be treated.

“A person must decide that for themselves,” said Peskov, who spoke of infected governors’ ability to work remotely.

President Vladimir Putin said Russia, which has said its Sputnik V vaccine is 92% effective, should increase the number of shots in circulation, during a meeting with senior government officials on Wednesday.

“The coronavirus situation in the country as a whole is difficult, but under control,” Putin said. “The most concerning thing is the rising death rate.”

Consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said Siberia’s Vector institute had three more vaccines in the works, the RIA news agency reported.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana drew the president’s attention to a shortage of hospital beds, with 81% of all beds occupied across Russia.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said some regions were experiencing ambulance shortages and that around 5,000 patients across the country were using ventilators.

Authorities reported 20,985 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, including 4,174 in Moscow and 129 in the Vladimir region.

With 1,991,998 infections since the start of the pandemic, Russia has the world’s fifth largest number of cases after the United States, India, Brazil and France. Russia has also reported a total of 34,387 deaths.

Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Darya Korsunskaya and Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn

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