Russian President Vladimir Putin has complained that reports of a coronavirus outbreak in Russia are “fake news,” according to a report Friday. According to numbers reported by Russian sources, as of early Saturday morning local time, the country of 144 million people had reported only 253 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by the novel coronavirus, making Russia one of the world’s most successful countries at preventing the pandemic, according to figures compiled by Worldometers.
At the same time, however, the city of Moscow saw 6,921 cases of pneumonia in January compared to 5,058 the previous year — an increase of 37 percent, according to a report by the Reuters news agency published on Friday. Nationwide, pneumonia cases were up by three percent compared to last year.
Moscow — a city of 13 million, making it home to almost one of every 10 Russians — has recorded 98 confirmed coronavirus cases. But the sudden increase in pneumonia has led to suspicions that the government is deliberately under-reporting the coronavirus figures, according to Reuters.
But Putin has dismissed the reports, claiming that the Kremlin’s coronavirus numbers are accurate and that “Russia is being targeted by fake news to sow panic,” Reuters reported.
Donald Trump, who has often been linked to Putin through his own public statements as well as by congressional investigations, has also lashed out at the press over coverage of the coronavirus crisis. On Friday, he blasted one NBC News correspondent as “a terrible reporter,” as seen in the video below.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 20, 2020
Though Putin has claimed that his country’s official coronavirus figures are correct, Moscow’s health department has also issued figures on the pneumonia outbreak that contradict those issued by Rosstat, Russia’s agency of statistics. The health department claims that far from spiking, pneumonia cases are actually down by seven percent from 2019, according to the Reuters report.
“I don’t believe the coronavirus numbers,” one Moscow resident told Reuters. “I remember what they told us about Chernobyl at the time.”
The resident was referring to the Soviet-era accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986, when one of that plant’s reactors exploded and caught fire, blasting radiation into the atmosphere over a wide radius. The official death toll from the Chernobyl accident was just 35 — though the United Nations in 2005 said that up to 4,000 more may die from exposure to radiation from the disaster, according to a BBC report.
But more recent estimates have been magnitudes higher, according to the BBC investigation, with possible numbers of fatalities ranging into the six figures. The government of Ukraine — which was part of the Soviet Union at the time of the nuclear accident — currently pays benefits to at least 36,000 women who it says are widows of Chernobyl victims, according to the report.