Earlier this week, Mikhail Tamm, a Russian physicist and statistician, explained (in Russian) why the number of deaths in Moscow in April is a far better estimate of coronavirus mortality than the official rate:
Ten days ago [the number of Covid-19 cases] was about 100 thousand. Out of these, according to the [Moscow City] department of health, about 4000 had died. They were autopsied and 1,580 were identified as having died of the coronavirus specifically – while about 2,400 more, or around 60%, as having died of other diseases. The age structure of the sick is approximately the same as for Moscow as a whole… the average age is below 45 years. When you have no pandemics, you can expect about 80 people out of the 100,000 to die in a month, as follows from historical data on mortality. But here we have 2,400 people dead from illnesses allegedly not related to the coronavirus. It’s about 30 times as many as there should be this group of people [a group of this size] during a period of one month.
If Tamm has his basic facts right, it’s all pretty much obvious. Accordingly, Russian denials are pretty much denials of the obvious. Moreover, they are unnecessary. Moscow’s death rate according to Tamm would be 4% (if I understand him correctly), about half of NYC’s. Ironically, this is the part that that head of the Moscow Healthcare department also gets right:
But even if all the additional deaths for April in Moscow were attributed to the coronavirus, Moscow’s death rate for Covid-19 would be lower than the rates in New York and London.
Why pretend that Russia’s death rate is miraculously, fantastically low rather than realistically low? An unconditional reflex, perhaps: Putin’s bureaucracy produces lies automatically.
But there’s probably more to this absurd insistence on the indefensible. After less than two months of inconsistent quarantines, Kremlin is now reverting to the business as usual policy – the ostrich approach so to say. To justify it in the eyes of the people, Moscow needs to downgrade the perils of the virus, say, to one notch above the seasonal flu. You can’t do it with a 3% or 4% mortality. How about less than 1%? That could work. (Could doesn’t mean will, of course – if people start dropping dead like this gentleman, it surely won’t.) The policymakers in the Kremlin must realize that they are risking millions of lives in their gamble but cannot yet imagine being held to account for that.