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Can We Trust Russia’s Low Coronavirus Infection Rate?

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.MOSCOW – The fight against coronavirus has stopped performances by the world-famous Bolshoi Theater company, something that even World War II couldn’t do. It’s part of Russia’s efforts to contain an outbreak that President Putin claims as “a whole is under control.” For…

Can We Trust Russia’s Low Coronavirus Infection Rate?

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

MOSCOW – The fight against coronavirus has stopped performances by the world-famous Bolshoi Theater company, something that even World War II couldn’t do.

It’s part of Russia’s efforts to contain an outbreak that President Putin claims as “a whole is under control.”

For weeks, Russia only reported a handful of infections. On Monday, that number went from 63 to 93. The next day it was 114, and the day after that it was 147.

The government jumped into action and closed the border to foreigners, banned gatherings of more than 50 people, and forced residents returning from abroad to self-isolate. Muscovites responded by stockpiling, emptying supermarket shelves and wearing face masks.

But for some experts, the country’s response might be too late.

“Across the country, there are a huge amount of patients with pneumonia,” Anastasia Vasilyeva, the head of the independent doctors union Doctors Alliance, told VICE News. “We cannot ignore the coincidence and link these pneumonia cases with coronavirus. In my opinion, there are tens of thousands of cases that we don’t know about.”

She’s not the only one who’s worried that the rate of infection in a country of 146 million people — which borders China on one side and Europe on the other — seems suspiciously low. Especially because most people who arrived from abroad haven’t been tested.

Although Putin claims Russia has curtailed the spread of the epidemic, he’s called for an increase in the production of tests and more supplies of medicine and equipment. The government has gone so far as to order prisoners to start making face masks.

“Russia is absolutely not ready for the epidemic,” Vasilyeva said. “I am more than sure that even serious cases and deaths will be simply hidden from the population.”

Cover: A man wears face mask as a precaution against coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak in Moscow, Russia on March 19, 2020. (Photo by Sefa Karacan via Getty Images)

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