23 March 2020
Lev Ponomarev is chair of the national public organization For Human Rights and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
It seems that the situation with the Covid-19 coronavirus is more than merely serious. We are a little lucky in that we have the opportunity to analyse the experience of other countries facing the epidemic and try to avoid their most dangerous mistakes. It only remains to hope that the authorities will actually show prudence and responsibility. Here are a few conclusions made with the help of open source models. If you want to study the question in more detail, look at this material. Based on the charts it contains we can predict how the situation with coronavirus will develop in our country.
This is how it developed in Hubei:
The orange bars show the daily number of officially registered patients (the blue bars show the true picture of the daily spread). In Russia, dozens of new infections are now being registered every day. This corresponds to the dates 21-22 January in Hubei. On 11 February, as we see, the number of registered cases was already very great. As is known, it was possible to suppress the outbreak of coronavirus in China by the end of March.
And this graphic shows how, thanks to the quick and correct reaction of the Chinese medical services, it was possible to stop the explosive (exponential) spread of the virus in China. We see that the increase in the number of sick people in the country was gradual, and this means that they were being successfully treated. Italy (the red line on the graphic) did not learn from this experience and unfortunately got different results.
Conclusion: the more correctly the medical services act to contain the spread of the virus (the methods are well-known), the better they cope, and the fewer fatal outcomes occur. But in tandem the period during which the infection spreads is lengthened.
In Russia, 71 new cases of coronavirus were officially registered on 23 March. Based on the above observations it can be argued that by 22 April – the scheduled date for the nationwide vote on constitutional amendments – the spread of coronavirus will be unstoppable; it will remain at maximum for quite a while. And holding such a major nationwide public event could lead to the spread of the coronavirus in an explosive, uncontrollable process.
What lessons can be learned from the experience of other countries?
1. At first, official data greatly lags behind the real picture of the spread of the infection – hundreds or even thousands of times behind it.
There’s a quite simple explanation for this: a long time elapses between infection and seeking medical help (the incubation period of the virus is two weeks), and many people don’t even go to the doctor. A sharp increase in official data occurs when symptoms become more severe and diagnosis becomes more accurate. The numbers begin to level out by the time effective measures are taken to localize the foci of infection and the spread of infection is controlled.
2. Mortality from coronavirus Covid-19 directly depends on how well the healthcare system is provided with the necessary equipment and can cope with the load.
According to WHO data, mortality stands at 3.4%. But this is an overall estimate obtained by comparing different indicators over time. One other thing is important: in regions where the outbreak was very severe (for example, in the Hubei province of China) indicators show that mortality rates were notably higher than in other regions, and this is due primarily to the fact that the health system cannot cope with such a large number of patients who need not only accommodation and personnel with personal protective equipment, but also intensive care equipment, such as mechanical ventilation or artificial heart and lungs.
3. The main way to confront a pandemic is to halt the growth in the number of cases, which allows some relief for the health system and wins time for more effective organization of assistance and the development of vaccines.
This is very important. We must take every measure to avoid an explosive increase in the number of cases in Russia. First of all, this can be achieved by minimizing the movements of people, by refraining from visiting places where large numbers of people are gathered. And we see that such measures are only just beginning to be taken. We can welcome the decision of the organisers of the protest rallies scheduled for 21 and 22 March to refuse to hold them, in spite of the brazen and cynical revision of the Constitution to enable Putin’s lifelong presidency.
But during a period of acute struggle with a dangerous virus, will the authorities really drive millions of people to polling stations on 22 April? Are pensioners, who are most vulnerable to this infection, for whom it could well be fatal, going to go?
The vote on 22 April should be cancelled. Not only is it illegal and unconstitutional, it is also a mortal danger for millions of our fellow citizens. We shouldn’t all have to urgently buy a hazmat suit for the sake of resetting Putin’s term in office.
Translated by Anna Bowles