SEATTLE, Washington — Russia is the largest country in the world, encompassing 6.6 million square miles across Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. Since 2019, however, Russia’s population has been on a steady decline due to a range of factors. The onset of COVID-19 in Russia occurred later than in most Western countries. Nonetheless, it challenged the nation for several months.
The number of COVID-19 related deaths in Russia dramatically increased from 495 deaths in late March to 10,131 by early April 2020. By December 4, Russia had “the fourth-highest caseload in the world” with more than 2.4 million cases and 41,053 reported deaths. This number, however, was disputed by Alexey Raksha, a former government statistician. Raksha studied the nation’s excess deaths and their causes and believe the actual number of deaths to be 130,000.
Russia has a high percentage of elderly residents, which account for 13% of the population. The elderly are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Medical facilities in Russia have been feeling the strain of COVID-19, and hospital beds in five of the most affected regions are at more than 95% capacity.
On January 29, 2020, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin approved the creation of a COVID-19 taskforce with the intention of mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in Russia. By March, Russia had prohibited all foreign entry into Russia and declared a nationwide high alert status. On March 31, it declared a state of emergency, which enforced strict quarantine measures.
Among the hardest-hit regions in Russia, Moscow and the surrounding Moscow Oblast region took the most measures to contain the effect of the virus. The Mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin, restricted large gatherings, placed 2,500 people who had recently arrived from China under quarantine and urged employers to allow employees to work from home. On March 30, Sobyanin enacted a citywide quarantine.
President Vladimir Putin had addressed the nation on March 27, 2020. He discussed safety measures during COVID-19 in Russia. In Putin’s address, he implemented a week-long nationwide holiday. During this time, the country had canceled all cultural and sporting events and shut down businesses that required large gatherings such as theaters and clubs. In addition, those who were unemployed or on sick leave were promised to receive a stimulus until the end of the year. Parents also received an additional 5,000 rubles for each child younger than the age of three.
Russian Assistance Abroad
Aside from its domestic measures, Russia delivered aid to a number of countries abroad in an effort to bolster its international reputation. It delivered medical equipment and supplies to Italy and Serbia on April 3 under a campaign dubbed, “From Russia with Love”. Russian military staff trained in chemical, biological and nuclear decontamination accompanied this equipment delivery. Russia also provided ventilators, masks and protective gear to the United States in early April, though the U.S. State Department discounts Russia claims of aid since the gear was purchased.
The Promise of Sputnik V
Russia was the first country to register a COVID-19 vaccine in August 2020. The country nicknamed it Sputnik V as a throwback to the space race. The vaccine had not yet begun Phase 3 trials, which caused controversy for its supposed efficacy. There is still a lack of information, but more than 100,000 Russians had received it by Dec. 2020. President Putin called for mass vaccination of teachers, healthcare workers and social workers, which was free and voluntary. Putin also announced that Rusia had curated more than two million vaccines for this mass immunization.
Outlook in Russia
With a possible viable vaccine on the horizon, Russia could contribute to the international fight against COVID-19. The country promised to distribute the Sputnik V vaccine, first to citizens and existing foreign partners, for the price of $10. Yet, the efficacy of Sputnik V is under-researched and controversial. In light of the number of cases and deaths, however, more than 1.89 million have recovered. Though inconsistent and delayed, the Russian government made several successful steps to diminish the impact of COVID-19 in Russia both at a federal and local level.