New figures suggest Russia had third highest COVID-19 death toll in 2020

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Russia’s state statistics service on Monday reported 162 429 deaths related to COVID-19 in Russia last year, a tally that is much higher than previously reported and amounts to the world’s third highest death toll from the disease in 2020.

The figure is almost three times higher than the 57 555 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in 2020 by Russia’s coronavirus task force, and confirms comments by a deputy prime minister last year suggesting the toll was higher than reported.

The data could renew questions about how the COVID-19 death toll is calculated in Russia and about how effective Russia’s handling of the pandemic has been, despite developing the Sputnik-V vaccine against the disease.

Russian authorities imposed a lockdown during the first wave of the pandemic last year, but resisted doing so again in September when the daily number of cases began to rise, saying targeted measures were enough.

Global data showed only the United States and Brazil reported more deaths related to COVID-19 last year than the total reported in Russia by the Rosstat statistics agency on Monday. Both have larger populations than Russia.

Rosstat also released full-year data for deaths in 2020 in the country of about 145 million people.

According to Reuters calculations, the data showed there were 89 413 excess deaths in December alone and 301 847 between April and the end of the year.

Some epidemiologists say excess deaths are the best way to assess the COVID-19 toll, as counting methods vary between countries. The method entails comparing total deaths for a given period with the average number of the previous five years.

Russia reported more than 274 000 excess deaths in 2020, including the first three months of the year when excess deaths figures were negative.

By comparison, 400 000 more excess deaths were reported in the European Union between January and November than between 2016 and 2019, according to the Eurostat statistics office. The EU has a population of about 450 million.