Inside Russia’s ‘4th wave’: Record Deaths, Deep Frustration and Plenty of Blame

Alexander Ivanov’s life was nearly taken during a regular medical checkup in mid-September. The clinic was packed, and nearly no one was wearing a mask.

“Or distancing,” he added, referring to a regular occurrence in Russian public spaces and on public transportation. “I even warned some of the folks that they should wear masks, but they didn’t seem to mind.”

He became ill with the coronavirus three days later and ended up in intensive care in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s Urals area. The 47-year-old man, who had not been vaccinated, watched as other people died, fearful that he might be next.

The disastrous “fourth wave” in Russia is a cautionary story for a failing immunization effort, demonstrating the difficulty in altering course following the government’s muddled, on-and-off messaging concerning covid-19.

Russia’s pandemic preparations began with a rigorous lockdown in early 2020 and were lifted just before a vital constitutional vote in July 2020. Moscow introduced QR codes to prove immunization status in order to enter clubs, restaurants, and cafés this summer, but the unpopular practice was dropped after a few weeks.

According to some commentators, Russians’ suspicion of authorities and skepticism of doctors, which dates back to the Soviet era, contributes to the country’s vaccine hesitancy. Others point the finger at anti-vaccination campaigners and widespread misinformation on social media.

However, as a result, Russia has become a pandemic hotspot, whereas countries with greater vaccination rates are loosening their prohibitions.

A sad record of Russian deaths is kept almost daily: over 1,100 each day, according to government estimates. Many independent analysts believe this is still understated. The reimposition of restrictions, including a partial lockdown beginning Thursday, is causing hospitals to struggle and small business owners to become enraged.

Russia’s immunization rate was among the lowest in the world as authorities downplayed the situation ahead of the September legislative elections. Officials have increased their warnings about the coronavirus and the necessity for immunizations in recent weeks.

Since Oct. 14, Russia’s Ministry of Health claims to have fully vaccinated 8 million Russians, increasing the total to 50.9 million, or around 35% of the population. According to the Global Change Data Lab in the United Kingdom, this compares to 74 percent in Canada, 72 percent in Japan, 68 percent in France, 67 percent in the United Kingdom, 66 percent in Germany, and 57 percent in the United States.

Ivanov is not anti-vaccine, but his stance demonstrates how the government has failed to persuade even individuals who are not anti-vaccine. He didn’t think the jab was essential because he spends most of his time on his tiny farm outside of Yekaterinburg with his dogs and poultry.

“I had intended to do it, but I just assumed I’d do it tomorrow.” And then there’s tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow. “I simply didn’t get around to it,” Ivanov explained. “I was completely unconcerned about this infection. It reminded me of the flu, and I didn’t think it was hazardous. “I had no fear.”

For several weeks, he was in intensive care, and his only contact with the outside world was a doctor who informed his family of his health and read the letters he had written.

“As a result, I wrote, ‘Don’t worry, I’m fine.’ “Of course, I was thinking I might die,” Ivanov recalled, “particularly when I saw people around me dying.”

Experts in Russia are questioning official epidemic statistics as being too low. They are unyielding in their refusal to be silenced.

Vlad Nesterov, Ivanov’s father-in-law, shared Ivanov’s concerns about contracting the virus. He, too, became ill in late September, along with his family and nearly everyone in his office.

Nesterov, a journalist, believes he got it at an office birthday celebration. There was a lot of vodka and toasts, and several of the attendees ended up with covid-19.

“I’m not opposed to vaccination. “I just assumed that Jesus Christ would help me and that whatever happened would happen,” Nesterov explained. He was sick and fatigued for four weeks at home, battling the coronavirus.

Lev Averbakh, a doctor in St. Petersburg, feels as if he is fighting a sea of ignorance, apathy, and misinformation. “I’m wary of explaining to folks what this virus is all about and why they should get vaccinated. “The population’s resistance is massive,” he remarked in an interview.

Another doctor, Sergei, who works at a regional hospital’s “red zone” — or coronavirus treatment unit — has lost compassion for unvaccinated patients. He only thinks about the generous red zone bonus payments, which means he earns twice as much as he would otherwise.

“However, because of these covid payouts, we covid doctors have become very skeptical.” Covid is excellent for us, as horrible as that may seem,” said the doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “The worse the covid issue gets, the better it is for us,” he remarked, alluding to doctors’ bonuses.

He asked each of the 120 coronavirus patients under his direct care if they had been immunized a few months previously. “All of them said no,” he stated, citing nonspecific concerns such as “side effects or hereditary difficulties.”

When the epidemic reached its apex, his 200-bed hospital was required to add 70 more beds.

“And there was no room for beds.” “We had to cram beds into corridors, operating rooms, and every other available space,” the doctor explained. Patients who did not have coronavirus-related diseases were sent home too soon, he claimed, only to return sicker than before.

Hospitals around Russia are under similar strong challenges as the number of cases reaches new highs.

One man in Siberia took dramatic measures: he purchased personal protective equipment, pretended to be a nurse, and entered the “red zone” at Tomsk Medical Sanitary Unit No. 2 to check on his 80-year-old grandma.

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