The official number of COVID-19 cases in Russia surpassed the two million mark this week as the number of daily deaths and infections soared to new highs, prompting the government to call for more action to combat the pandemic.
“The situation with COVID is very tense,” a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters on Thursday. “This subject is now a priority for the president.”
Despite the increase in the number of cases, which brought the number of cases in Russia to 2,015,608 and the death toll to nearly 35,000, some patients at one of Moscow’s recently opened pop-up COVID hospitals have was surprised to find it.
One patient, Ramil, who declined to give his last name, said he never expected to catch the virus and be so sick.
“I didn’t think something like this would happen,” the 37-year-old said, speaking from his hospital bed.
‘It was really hard’
There were 6,438 new cases in Moscow, the worst-affected area in the country, according to the Coronavirus Crisis Response Center. Russia, with a population of around 145 million, has the fifth highest number of cases in the world after the United States, India, Brazil and France.
It was Ramil’s fourth day of work to breathe in the COVID district of the newly transformed pavilion on the grounds of the All Russia Exhibition Center, also known as the National Economy Achievements Exhibition, or VDNKh .
The historic exhibition site was built under Josef Stalin to glorify the economic and scientific achievements of the USSR In mid-October, as the second wave of cases began to take off in the city, the installation of 1,200 beds has been opened. Two more temporary hospitals have since been established in the city to deal with the surge in cases.
“I thought [COVID] was real, but I thought it would be easier to get over it. For me personally, it was really tough, ”Ramil told a TBEN News crew who dressed from head to toe and walked in to see the conditions in the so-called red zone.
Unlike hospital staff – and visiting journalists – who wear airtight protective clothing, patients stand out because they wear street clothes.
Worst cases moved elsewhere
Most, including Ramil, spend their days in bed and move around as little as possible, although for those who are on the mend, there is a small common area where they can watch movies.
Those who take a turn for the worse are usually sent to a different facility with an intensive care unit and ventilators.
Once a patient no longer tests positive for COVID, they can go home.
And although many patients in the airport hangar-like building present with what are considered mild to moderate symptoms, even these can get a punch.
“I thought it was like the flu,” said Mikhail, another patient who declined to give his last name.
He was weak, had a high fever, and like many others, needed oxygen to breathe.
“It was really bad. I think I got it on public transport,” he said.
WATCH | TBEN News visits the temporary COVID-19 hospital in Moscow:
The Russian government is bragging about fending off the pandemic by investing in new healthcare technology and building temporary hospitals, like the one TBEN visited. It is also conducting trials on three new coronavirus vaccines, including its very popular Sputnik V.
On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova announced that 600,000 doses of the Sputnik vaccine still in trial would be released in November, as well as an additional 2.2 million doses in December.
However, Russia has already made boastful predictions about its vaccine.
While its developer, the Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, says early results show 92% efficacy in preventing coronavirus, it has not released data from phase 3 trials, which are typically the final phase of large-scale testing for new investigational drugs before they can be approved for public use.
And the Russian government has failed to follow through on previous promises to quickly launch mass vaccination campaigns in the fall.
Russia has recorded between 20,000 and 23,000 new cases a day for about 10 days and the government recognizes that the health care system is now being pushed to the limit.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that in 53 of the country’s 85 regions, around 90% of hospital beds are in use and admissions continue to rise.
Although Moscow has the heaviest caseload, it also has more resources to cope with the situation than other cities and towns in the country. Russia’s extensive hospital network has come under intense scrutiny, as the horror story after the horror story surfaced on social media, depicting dirty and dilapidated facilities with overflowing mortuaries and a shortage of doctors to treat patients or do autopsies.
In a hospital in Chelyabinsk, a city in the Ural Mountains, a large oxygen tank intended to supply COVID patients exploded, destroying the facility but miraculously leaving those inside unharmed.
Russia officially reports 34,850 deaths from COVID, although some demographers and statisticians estimate it could reach 102,000.
Authorities focus on preparedness
In the Moscow hospital visited by TBEN News, patients all appeared to be in good hands and receiving quality care.
The facilities were new and modern and although the staff seemed busy there was no obvious sign of exhaustion.
This is probably the reason why Russian authorities brought reporters there – to argue that the country is winning the fight against COVID.
“To this day, we are not running to keep pace,” said Svetlana Zeinalova, the doctor in charge. “The city is well equipped.
“Our medical staff are tired, but they are working, and no one is complaining. They are saving people’s lives so that we can stop this pandemic here in Russia.”
TBEN News was also transported to a state-of-the-art diagnostic center where a team of radiologists and other specialists were testing new equipment to study patients’ lung scans.
They then upload the results along with their diagnoses so that doctors at the hospital can scan patients’ healthcare data on a bracelet and immediately know their condition and treatment regimen.
“We have full computer diagnostics, medications and all the necessary exams,” Zeinalova proudly said.
Yet critics associated with Russia’s western-leaning opposition urge people to look beyond organized hospital visits and to see conditions beyond the capital for the mess they are.
WATCH | Hospitals in parts of Russia were already overwhelmed even before the recent spike in cases:
Bad conditions in areas beyond Moscow
Dr Anastasia Vasilyeva, who met our crew a few hours after returning from a visit to hospitals hundreds of kilometers north of Moscow, said other areas are very poor and lack the necessary resources.
“There is a lack of medical personnel, a lack of medicine and a lack of everything that is needed to treat the coronavirus,” she said.
Vasilyeva heads a doctors union that works closely with opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who remains in Germany after recovering from an assassination attempt involving the Novichok nerve gas.
“I think they are trying to show that in Russia everything is fine, that Russia has no problem with the coronavirus and the medical staff,” she told TBEN News.
Vasilyeva said her team filled their vehicles with personal protective equipment purchased with donations and donated it to hospitals where conditions are much more difficult than in Moscow.
“The toilets, the bathrooms – they are really in a terrible state,” she said of a hospital in Nyandoma town, in Naydomsky district, about 800 km north of Moscow. .
She said the paint was peeling from the walls, the toilet bowls and sinks were dirty and miserable, and the whole room looked more like a prison than a hospital.
“How can the patients be there? And how can you treat the patients in such conditions?”
She said her team had also been harassed by police, who she said were acting on political instructions. On the way between hospitals, she said, they were arrested and charged with drinking, forcing her team to stop and postpone part of their trip.
“I think the chief doctors and some officials put money in their pockets because I don’t know why such a wealthy country has such horrible and terrible hospitals and clinics,” Vasilyeva said.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said the heads of regions with high incidence of infections should use their authority to improve the situation.