“This is how Layalina looks: terrifying,” says a male voice recounting footage provided to CNN, a prominent Russian medical association linked to the opposition, the Doctors Alliance, which says it was recorded in mid-October by an employee at Ulyanovsk Hospital, a city about 500 miles away. East of Moscow.
“Two others are in our dormitory,” he said, while photographing a dead body. “This is how COVID-19 kills everyone.”
This horrific video is just one of several that CNN has obtained that reveal the horrific conditions inside the overcrowded facilities. Some of the footage shows morgues with dead bodies, stripped naked, piled on top of each other on dirty floors, in scenes that look more like war zones than hospitals.
Russia says that as of November 16, more than 33,000 people had died from Covid-19. But critics contest this figure and say the Kremlin does not report these numbers.
“I think the real number is [around] “130,000 people” – a former government statistician who based his estimates on official data on excess deaths – the number of deaths is higher than expected – said “130,000 people”, to assess the outcome of the epidemic.
Using data from local records, Raksha estimates that Russia reached about 160,000 to 170,000 excess deaths from April to November. About 80% of these deaths are attributed to Covid-19 – an average figure compiled from similar statistics published by Western countries.
Between April and September 2020, the number of official Russian deaths increased by about 117,000, compared to last year, according to the Russian statistical agency Rosstat. The official number of Covid-19 deaths in that period reached nearly 21,000.
Rosstat data is not available yet for October and November, but according to official statistics released by the country’s Coronavirus Response Center, the spread of the epidemic has accelerated rapidly.
Raksha says he quit Rosstat in July after speaking publicly about how the agency calculates coronavirus-related deaths. He says the discrepancy between the official numbers and his calculations is due to the way Russia classifies COVID-19 victims.
Rosstat uses a four-tiered classification system, he explains. According to the agency’s website, they are: 1. The patient tested positive for Covid-19 before death. 2- When Covid-19 is assumed to be the main cause of death but must be confirmed by autopsy or further research; 3. When the virus contributes to the death of those with underlying conditions; 4. When Covid-19 is confirmed but not a major factor in death.
Raksha told CNN: “Only the first class of victims, when a patient tested positive for Coronavirus before his death, is recorded as a death for Covid-19.” According to Raksha, deaths in the other three levels are excluded from the official figures.
The Russian Ministry of Health, Rospotrebnadzor, and Rosstat did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
This counting method differs from the World Health Organization’s guidance, which states that all deaths related to Covid-19 should be counted unless there is an “apparent surrogate cause that cannot be associated” with the disease.
However, while it is fighting the pandemic, Russia still knows how to put on a good show. In August, to great fanfare, it became the first country to register a vaccine for the Coronavirus, Sputnik V, even before the crucial phase 3 trials began. This vaccine, which has been met with skepticism by outside scientists, has not yet been widely used.
CNN was also granted rare access to a recently completed 1,300-bed coronavirus hospital in Moscow, built on a world championships ice rink, dubbed “Ice Palace”.
“The crisis is complex but it can be controlled,” chief medical officer Andrei Skoda told CNN as he toured. “We have all the necessary diagnostic equipment here: ultrasound, anesthesia, and ventilators.”
Looming on the horizon above, a giant screen that usually broadcasts the results of skiing or ice hockey to the public is now used to show films to patients while they undergo treatment.
The chief doctor said that the hospital is completely digital; Each patient is assigned a bracelet with a QR code that links to all their healthcare records.
“This is normal care,” he told CNN across Moscow and beyond.
However, this rosy picture of a country that is completely in control of the epidemic, with its network of vast medical facilities, appears increasingly in contradiction to the footage from hospitals, a deeper examination of official statistics and the testimony of some medical workers.
Last month, the Russian government acknowledged increasing pressure on its medical facilities, with Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova saying hospital beds in five of the hardest-hit regions were already at more than 95% of capacity.
An ambulance driver in the Saratov region of southwestern Russia – who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from it at work – said the situation at his hospital was “chaotic.”
“Doctors are refusing even to accept elderly patients who have breathing difficulties,” he said. “They tell them that they do not need to be admitted to hospital. But the real reason is that there are not enough places in the ward.”
In another video provided to CNN, filmed in a crowded mortuary, a male voice speaks over the horrific images: “We hardly find anywhere here. It’s like a horror movie.”
Anna Chernova from Moscow contributed to this report.