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COVID-19: Moscow cases ‘likely three times higher’ than official toll

Moscow Kremlin, Russia. (Pavel Kazachkov, Wikimedia Commons/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The global death toll from the coronavirus has passed 260,000 with more than 3.7 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here’s a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast regions.


Russia’s number of coronavirus cases has seen a record daily surge with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin warning that the actual number of cases in the capital alone is likely three times higher than the official tally.

Officials said on May 7 that there had been 11,231 new infections in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily total to date, bringing the national total to just over 177,000, more than former European hotspots such as Germany and France.

In Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s outbreak with more than half of the country’s total positive tests and deaths, Sobyanin said screening indicates that 2-2.5 percent of Muscovites have contracted the coronavirus, meaning there could be about 300,000 infections in the city, compared with the current reported figure of just under 93,000.

“We should never lose optimism. How soon we come out from this situation will largely depend on ourselves, on our discipline. I do not want to predict the future, but my personal opinion is that we will not be able to return to full-fledged life without restrictions soon,” Sobyanin said on state television channel Rossia 24, adding that wearing face masks and gloves will become mandatory on public transport in Moscow beginning on May 12.

Sobyanin said that confirmed cases were rising in the capital because authorities had sharply increased testing and that the situation had actually somewhat stabilized.

Russia says it has carried out more than 4.8 million coronavirus tests across the country.

Russia’s official death toll, which remains far lower than in many countries, rose to 1,625 after 88 people died overnight, according to a pandemic task force.

By comparison, France, with a similar number of confirmed infections, has reported almost 26,000 deaths.

Russia’s relatively low official death rate has triggered criticism that the authorities may be covering up the real toll of the outbreak by failing to correctly identify coronavirus deaths as such, accusations that have been rejected by authorities.

But Russian officials say the outbreak in their country started later than in parts of the world, allowing authorities to better prepare for the pandemic. Russia now has the fifth-largest number of cases in the world, according to a running tally by the John Hopkins University in the United States.

The residents of Moscow, which is in its sixth week of a lockdown, must stay at home except when buying food and medicine. They must obtain a digital permit to travel anywhere by public or private transport.

President Vladimir Putin has voiced support for a plan put forward by Sobyanin to gradually begin lifting some lockdown restrictions in the capital after May 12, allowing certain industrial activities to resume.


Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan says the country’s five-week coronavirus lockdown will be lifted on May 9 despite a record rise in the number of cases in the country.

Khan argued in a televised address on May 7 that the decision was made because Pakistan’s large number of poor people and laborers can no longer afford to live under a lockdown. Nearly 40 percent of Pakistan’s 212 million people live in poverty.

“We’re deciding that we are ending this lockdown now,” Khan said. “We know that we’re doing it at a time when our curve is going up…but it is not edging up as we were expecting.”

Pakistan, which has 24,500 official coronavirus cases with 564 fatalities, on May 7 saw its highest single-day increase of 1,523 cases.

Khan said shops and restaurants will reopen from May 9. However, train services, flights, and attendance at schools will remain suspended till May 15. Shopping malls will also remain closed, he said.

Separately, Planning Minister Asad Umer said key economic sectors including agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and retail would reopen.

Pakistan’s health authorities have been struggling to cope with the steady increase in infections, although the country is estimated to be still weeks away from the peak of the outbreak.

Thousands of Pakistanis are also testing positive after returning home from overseas, raising concerns of a further spread of the virus.


Afghanistan’s health minister has tested positive for the coronavirus, his spokesman says, as the number of confirmed cases in the country passed 3,500.

Ferozuddin Feruz “showed symptoms of COVID-19 in the past few days and was isolated at home,” the spokesman, Wahidullah Mayar, said on May 7, adding that the minister’s health condition is “stable.”

A total of 3,563 infections with the coronavirus have been recorded in Afghanistan so far, including 106 deaths.

The actual numbers are likely to be significantly higher as few tests are being carried out in the war-ravaged country.


Serbia’s parliament has lifted a state of emergency and curfew, which were introduced in mid-March to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told lawmakers on May 6 that Serbia has met all the conditions set by the World Health Organization for relaxing the measures.

“For more than a week, fewer than 5 percent of those tested in Serbia have been infected with the coronavirus, which is the most important condition to lift the state of emergency,” Brnabic said.

After Serbia declared its state of emergency the authorities imposed a daily curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., along with several weekend curfews lasting from Thursday evening until Monday morning.

Since mid-April, people older than 65 had been forbidden from going out for a month, except for a one-hour daily walk.

Serbia has confirmed almost 10,000 virus cases so far, including more than 200 deaths.

The figures for new cases have been decreasing in recent days.

The country relaxed some measures earlier this week, reopening restaurants and cafes as well as resuming public transport, following repeated noisy protests by Serbs who were stuck at home and resorted to banging tin pans and drums to vent their anger at the government’s moves.

President Aleksandar Vucic on May 4 said Serbia would hold parliamentary and local elections on June 21.

The polls had been scheduled for April 26 but were postponed when the state of emergency was declared.

Opposition parties have indicated they will boycott the elections over accusations that there will not be a level playing field for the campaign.

Many Serbs have accused Vucic, in power since 2012, of oppressing political opponents, stifling media freedoms, corruption, and cronyism.

Vucic has denied the accusations.

Central Asia

Kazakhstan has marked Defender of the Fatherland Day without a trademark military parade this year because of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev on May 7 congratulated the Central Asian nation on a day that has been celebrated with military parades each year to commemorate the founding of the Kazakh armed forces in 1992.

All other events linked to marking the day — concerts, exhibitions, lectures, Q&A sessions — are being held online or broadcast on television to prevent large groups of people from gathering.

Health authorities said on May 7 that the number of coronavirus cases in the country had reached 4,530, including 30 deaths, the most in the region.

In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, authorities in the capital, Bishkek, suspended the operation of the Main Children’s Hospital after several patients and medical personnel tested positive for COVID-19.

Deputy Health Minister Nurbolot Usonbaev said on May 7 that the hospital had stopped accepting new patients while those accepted earlier were being tested for the coronavirus.

Usonbaev also said that, as of May 7, there were 895 coronavirus cases registered in the country, of which 12 cases had been fatal.

In Uzbekistan, health authorities said on May 7 that the number of coronavirus cases in the country was 2,266, including 10 deaths.

In Tajikistan, the latest figures are 379 cases, including 8 deaths.

The fifth nation in the region, Turkmenistan, has not reported a single coronavirus case.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is still working on a possible visit to Turkmenistan to assess the situation on the ground in one of the world’s most tightly run countries.

Experts are skeptical of the claim that there are no cases given the lack of transparency and an independent media in the country.

Doctors in the country are not allowed to talk about the coronavirus, face masks are banned, and citizens are punished for publicly discussing the global pandemic.

Further clouding the situation, authorities have set up three quarantine zones around the country in a bid to prevent the spread of what they call “infectious diseases.”

People with coronavirus symptoms are not being treated for the virus, and COVID-19 test results are unknown, even if they are performed.