• Russia recorded Sunday, for the fourth consecutive day, a record number of Covid-19 cases with 34,303 contaminations and 997 deaths in twenty-four hours.

  • The country's low vaccination coverage and the lack of restrictions explain the proliferation of the extremely contagious Delta variant.

  • But for economic and political reasons, the government does not seem to decide to change gear.

Since the end of September, rare are the weeks when Russia has not experienced new records of contamination and deaths linked to the coronavirus.

This Sunday, the country thus recorded a record for the fourth consecutive day with 34,303 contaminations and 997 deaths recorded in twenty-four hours.

The epidemic peak still does not seem to be reached, the vaccination rate remains particularly low and, yet, the government still does not seem ready to take national measures to curb the spread of the virus.

A political choice motivated by various issues.

  • How alarming is the health situation in Russia?

34,303 contaminations and 997 deaths is a lot for France or a country like the United Kingdom and its 67 million inhabitants.

But what about on the scale of Russia with its 144 million souls?

"More than 30,000 cases per day, it is not huge compared to the 45,000 daily cases in the United Kingdom for example", puts in parallel Antoine Flahault, epidemiologist and director of the Institute of global health at the faculty of medicine of the University of Geneva.

On the other hand, the death toll - "more than 900 against 130 recorded by the British government" - is much higher.

  • How to explain the high death toll?

For the epidemiologist, it is above all the low vaccination coverage which is at the origin of the number of serious cases causing deaths. According to official data, only "only 35% of Russians have a complete vaccination schedule, against 75% of the British, for example," said Antoine Flahault.

The record number of deaths can also be explained by the territorial disparities in the Russian health system.

"The budgets linked to the maintenance of hospitals, but also to the salaries of caregivers, are decentralized and go to the regions, which are in contrasting financial situations," explains Julien Vercueil, professor of economics specializing in Russia at the National Institute. of oriental languages ​​and civilizations (Inalco).

Together with transport infrastructure, this helps to explain the strong inequalities in access to healthcare between the large regional capitals and more remote places.

"

  • Why do people remain so suspicious of vaccination?

The multiple calls to be vaccinated from the government and Vladimir Poutin in person do not change anything: vaccination coverage is stagnating. "There was a strategic error on the part of the government, which rushed and politicized the issue of vaccination, by making it an element of national and international propaganda," reports Julien Vercueil. With the extremely early announcement of the discovery of the Sputnik V vaccine, the population felt trapped by political communication. "And if part of the Russians were already wary of the Russian authorities," the appropriation by the Kremlin of a public health subject and the injunctions to vaccination ended up eroding the confidence in the public speech of another fringe of the population ”.

It should also be remembered that even today the European Medicines Agency and the WHO have still not approved the vaccine.

“They want total transparency on the files and that provided by the Russian government was not considered sufficient, reports Antoine Flahault.

There is a doubt and it has spread to the Russian population.

"

  • Why didn't being one of the first countries to discover a vaccine against Covid-19 give Russia a head start?

Russia seemed to have all the cards in hand. "The country is known to be traditionally a producer of vaccines", assures Antoine Flahault. On the other hand, the discovery of the effectiveness of the Sputnik V vaccine was rapid. So much so that its use had been authorized in August 2020. But Russia then encountered "production difficulties", recalls Julien Vercueil. In addition to having to vaccinate twice its more than 144 million inhabitants, "Russia has also entered into major contracts for the export of its vaccine", adds the economist. By multiplying the promises, it accentuated the tensions on the weak capacities of national production.

The incentive for vaccination was not as strong as in other neighboring countries, also emphasizes Julien Vercueil.

“The vaccination obligation of certain professions was late and there was no health pass established at the national level.

"

  • Why does the Kremlin not have an economic interest in imposing restrictions?

After a short national lockdown, the Kremlin no longer wanted to impose a comprehensive health policy, preferring to delegate the fight against the virus to local authorities. Several explanations for this. "The desire first of all not to strangle the economic recovery and to avoid entering a period of depression", underlines the professor of economics at Inalco. In Russia, as in most countries, the containment episode had powerful negative effects on activity. "Russia experienced an almost 8% drop in production in the second quarter of 2020."

On the other hand, the country is huge and the pandemic is progressing at different rates.

“The government's argument is that the situation is not the same in Moscow and in the Far East.

It is therefore absurd to apply national restrictions which would close a factory located eight hours by plane from the epicenter of the epidemic, ”emphasizes Julien Vercueil.

  • Are the economic reasons invoked by the government its only motivations?

In addition to economic reasons, electoral deadlines in the summer of 2020 and 2021 have influenced government decisions.

"There was a desire not to arouse the discontent of certain professions", underlines the specialist.

But more than for fear of a backlash at the ballot box, "the government wanted above all to maintain the calendar and not to postpone the consultation on the reform of the Constitution".

And for good reason, this reform now allows Vladimir Putin to stand for the next two presidential elections, which will take place in 2024 and 2030.

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Keywords: health situation, kremlin, hand, russian, vaccine, attitude, government, united kingdom, antoine flahault, appropriation, country, deaths, records, contamination, contaminations