Moscow updates coronavirus statistics to show more deaths

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A woman wearing a face mask to protect to coronavirus plays accordion to get some money in Mytishchi, just outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. The coronavirus outbreak has badly hurt Russia's economy, already weakened by a drop in global oil prices and Western sanctions. According to government statistics, unemployment has jumped to 4.3 million people in April, the highest number since 2016. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW – Health officials in Moscow updated their figures on coronavirus deaths Thursday, seeking to dispel doubts about Russia's comparatively low COVID-19 death toll.

The health department in the Russian capital said Moscow's coronavirus mortality rate for April was 1.4% to 2.8% depending on the calculation method, a range significantly lower than in London, New York and some other major cities.

On top of 636 deaths in April directly caused by COVID-19 reported earlier, the Moscow Health Department added the deaths of 756 people who tested positive for the virus but died of other causes. It noted that in 360 of those cases, the coronavirus acted as a “catalyst,” exacerbating the patients’ conditions and contributing to their deaths.

The health department also factored in 169 deaths of people who tested negative but autopsies showed likely succumbed to the virus.

The department previously only counted deaths directly resulting from the virus, leaving an increase in deaths compared to April 2019 as an unexplained “excess.” That aroused suspicions in Russian and Western health experts, who alleged that the authorities in Moscow and other Russian regions may have under-reported coronavirus deaths for political reasons.

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the lifting of the nationwide economic shutdown that was put in place in late March and encouraged regional governors to gradually lift restrictions. He announced this week that a postponed Victory Day parade in Red Square that was set for May 9 to mark the 75th anniversary of Germany's surrender in World War II will take place on June 24.

Russian media said the Kremlin also plans to soon set a date for a constitutional amendment plebiscite that was put off from April because of the virus pandemic. The vote would allow Putin to stay in power until 2036, if he chooses.

The massive parade, which is intended to underline Moscow's rising global clout, and the vote on the amendments would require lifting restrictions imposed to curb Russia's outbreak. Authorities have said it's safe to do so now because infections have peaked.