Nightmare Spreads Through Russia’s Care Homes


Nightmare Spreads Through Russia’s Care Homes

When Alexei Sidnev saw the horror caused by coronavirus in European care homes he knew he had to act fast. Way back in March, before any lockdown in Russia, he began sealing off the six homes he runs near Moscow and buying-up protective clothing for staff.

“I don’t sleep much. It’s probably the hardest time of my life and I’ve been through perestroika and all the crises,” Mr Sidnev confides, recalling the Soviet Union’s reform and eventual collapse.

But while the businessman shares his own trials on social media, the struggle in Russia’s state care sector plays out old-style, largely behind closed doors.

“I know of many care homes right now fighting the virus, it’s just not public,” Mr Sidnev says.

‘In our place no-one does autopsies’

The story of a Covid-19 outbreak at the Vishenki home for the elderly in Smolensk, 400km (250 miles) west of Moscow, is one hint at how that wider picture may look.

“What’s happening here is a nightmare,” a carer told the BBC by telephone, one of dozens from the state-run home who are now off sick after residents and staff caught coronavirus.

All those we spoke to asked to remain anonymous because they want to keep their jobs.

“By 3 May lots of residents had a fever and they started dying,” the nurse recalled. “I think about eight people died and that’s just on my floor.”

She believes their “accompanying illnesses” were given as their cause of death, rather than Covid-19. “In our place, no-one does autopsies,” she said.

“No-one even told us there was Covid-19 in the home!” an orderly complained bitterly, in a separate call. “We found out when the ambulances came and they were dressed in those suits.”

“We sent a lot of people to hospital,” she said, and confirmed that other residents had died.

The local governor’s office did not respond to a BBC enquiry about fatalities and as of Tuesday Smolensk region had counted just 21 coronavirus fatalities in total.

Is Russia unusual in Europe?

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Across Europe, frail care home residents account for up to half of all coronavirus fatalities.

The figures in Smolensk are in line with the unusually low overall mortality rate that Russia is reporting in this epidemic, at around 1%.

The government insists that’s down to early diagnosis and treatment, though it only counts those found to have died of Covid-19 directly.

Nightmare Spreads Through Russia’s Care Homes


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