Inside Russia’s Catastrophic Fourth Wave of COVID-19: Record Deaths, Failed Vaccination Campaign, and Lack of Trust in Doctors

A medical specialist treats a patient in a ward of the unit of the regional clinical hospital for people suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tver, Russia, on October 28, 2021 (Reuters)
A medical specialist treats a patient in a ward of the unit of the regional clinical hospital for people suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tver, Russia, on October 28, 2021 (Reuters)

MOSCOW – A routine medical check-up in mid-September almost cost Alexander Ivanov his life. The clinic was full of people, almost no one was wearing a mask. “Or distancing,” he said, something common in Russian public spaces and in transport. “I even told some people that they should wear masks, but people didn’t care.”

Three days later, he fell ill with the coronavirus and ended up in intensive care in Yekaterinburg, in Russia’s Urals region. This 47-year-old resident – who was not vaccinated – watched other patients die, thinking he would be next.

Russia’s catastrophic “fourth wave” is a cautionary tale for a failed vaccination campaign, showing the difficulties in correcting course after intermittent and confusing messages from the government about covid-19.

This Sunday, Russia registered a new record of infections, with 40,993 new positives, and reported another 1,158 deaths.

Russian measures against the pandemic began with a strict lockdown in early 2020 and were reduced before the crucial July 2020 vote on constitutional changes. This summer, Moscow introduced QR codes to test the status of the vaccine to enter bars, restaurants and cafes, but the unpopular measure was abandoned after a few weeks.

Some analysts claim that Russians’ distrust of authorities and their skepticism of doctors – dating back to Soviet times – help explain the country’s reluctance to vaccines. Others blame anti-vaccine activists and rampant misinformation on social media.

But the result leaves Russia a hot spot in the pandemic, while countries with the highest vaccination rates are lifting restrictions.

Almost daily, a dismal death record is set in Russia: more than 1,100 a day, according to official figures. Many independent analysts say that this number is still insufficient. Hospitals are in trouble and small business owners are angered by the re-imposition of restrictions, including the partial closure starting Thursday.

As authorities downplayed the crisis ahead of the September parliamentary elections, Russia’s vaccination rate was among the lowest in the world. In recent weeks, authorities have stepped up warnings about the coronavirus and the need for vaccines.

Russia’s Health Ministry says it has vaccinated 8 million Russians since Oct. 14, bringing the current total to 50.9 million, that is, about 35% of the population. This figure compares with 74% for Canada, 72% for Japan, 68% for France, 67% for Great Britain, 66% for Germany and 57% for the United States., according to the UK-based Global Change Data Lab.

Only 35% of the population is vaccinated (Reuters)
Only 35% of the population is vaccinated (Reuters)

Ivanov is not against the vaccine, but his attitude illustrates how the government failed to convince even those who do not oppose vaccines. A retired policeman who spends a lot of time with his dogs and chickens on his small farm outside Yekaterinburg, did not think the vaccine was necessary.

“I was thinking about doing it, but I only thought about tomorrow. And tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. I just didn’t do it, ”Ivanov said. “I did not take this virus seriously at all. I thought it was like the flu, nothing dangerous. I was not afraid”.

In intensive care for several weeks, his only contact with the outside world was a doctor who reported his condition to his family and read the notes he wrote to them.

“So I wrote, ‘Don’t worry, I’m fine.’ But of course, I thought I could die, especially when I saw people around me dying, “Ivanov said.

Vlad Nesterov – Ivanov’s daughter’s father-in-law – had a similar opinion about the spread of the virus. He too fell ill at the end of September, along with his family and almost everyone in the office where he worked.

Nesterov, a journalist, believes he was infected at an office birthday party. There was a lot of vodka and toasts, and many of the guests were infected after covid-19.

“I am not against the vaccine. It’s just that I thought Jesus Christ would help me, and whatever happened would happen, ”Nesterov said. He spent four weeks battling the coronavirus at home, sick and constantly exhausted.

St. Petersburg doctor Lev Averbakh feels like he’s wading a tide of ignorance, apathy, and misinformation. “I am tired of explaining to people what this virus consists of and why it is necessary to get vaccinated. The resistance of the population is enormous, ”he said in an interview.

Another doctor, Sergei, who works in the “red zone” – or coronavirus treatment unit – of a regional hospital, no longer feels much compassion for unvaccinated patients. Just think of the generous bonuses in the red zone, which allow you to earn twice your normal salary.

“But the covid doctors are very cynical now, because of these covid payments. For us, the covid is good, as horrible as it may seem, “said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “For us, the worse the covid situation, the better,” he said, referring to premiums for doctors.

A few months ago, he asked each of the 120 coronavirus patients under his direct care if they had been vaccinated. They all said no, citing vague reasons like “side effects or genetic problems,” he said.

His 200-bed hospital was ordered to add 70 more beds when the disease peaked.

“And there was no space to put beds. We had to put beds in the corridors, in the operating rooms, anywhere we could find a space, “said the doctor. Patients without coronavirus-related illnesses were sent home prematurely, he said, only to return soon after, sicker than ever.

Russian authorities have ordered a partial shutdown to regain control
Russian authorities have ordered a partial shutdown to regain control

With cases reaching record numbers, hospitals across Russia are under similar pressure.

A person from Siberia took a drastic measure: he bought PPE equipment, disguised himself as a nurse and sneaked into the “red zone” of the Tomsk Sanitary Medical Unit No. 2 to check on his 80-year-old grandmother.

Identifying himself only as Sergei, he recorded himself donning a white protective suit, surgical gloves, blue goggles and a mask, and walking up the interior stairs of the hospital.

“Grandma, hi. Easy, easy, ”she said, approaching her bed, etching multiple black bruises on her arms and discovering that her diaper had not been changed or her pressure sores were bandaged. The video aired on Wednesday on Tomsk independent television TV2.

He spent nearly nine and a half hours in the hospital on the first day and came back a day later to find her unwashed, lying again in a dirty diaper, he said. On the third day, a doctor confronted him and he fled.

Antonina Stoilova, the hospital’s chief of therapeutics, said all patients are properly cared for, TV2 reported.

Russian authorities have ordered a partial shutdown to regain control, including a non-working week until November 8. But instead of staying at home, many people are going on vacation to Egypt, Turkey or the Russian Black Sea coast, according to travel agencies cited by Russian media.

A Russian posted a video on TikTok on October 26 from Cide, on the Turkish Black Sea coast, in which a crowd is seen frolicking in the sea. “The beaches are full. The sea is warm. The temperature is 30 degrees (86 degrees Fahrenheit). People are delighted, resting. Only in Russia there is confinement, “he said.

Kremlin propagandist Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state broadcaster RT, said on Telegram that she had changed her mind about the anti-vaccine claims because children were dying “en masse.”

“At first, the anti-vaccines aroused my understandable sympathy. People are afraid, people do not explain themselves, people are confused, ”he wrote on October 20. But now he calls them a threat to children’s lives.

“Choking on respirators, crawling with a saturation [de oxígeno] than 70 in crowded hospital corridors, ”he wrote. “That is your choice. But I cannot forgive you for the death of the children of my country ”.

However, Tatiana Stanovaya, an analyst at the Moscow-based R. Politik think tank, said President Vladimir Putin’s uneven message and his resistance to mandatory vaccination were more to blame.

“If any other country had the same information policy as Russia,” he said, “everything would be the same.”

(c) 2021, The Washington Post


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Helen Hernandez is our best writer. Helen writes about social news and celebrity gossip. She loves watching movies since childhood. Email: Phone : +1 281-333-2229

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