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UPDATE 1-Russia's COVID-19 death toll surpasses 200,000 -Rosstat

·2 min read

(Adds detail, Sobyanin comments)

MOSCOW, March 5 (Reuters) - More than 200,000 Russians diagnosed with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic began last April, Russia's Rosstat statistics agency said on Friday, more than double the widely cited figure used by the government's coronavirus task force.

The figures from Rosstat suggest Russia has had the third most COVID-19 fatalities in the world, behind only the United States and Brazil.

Rosstat, which releases its figures infrequently and with a time lag, said it had recorded 200,432 deaths through January. The government coronavirus task force's tally, updated daily, had recorded 88,285 deaths as of Friday.

The authorities have said in the past that Rosstat's figures are more complete, including data from autopsy reports not available for the daily tally.

Rosstat's figure included 37,107 deaths in January, more than double the 16,064 deaths reported by the task force for the month.

Russian authorities imposed a lockdown during the first wave of the pandemic last year, but did not do so again in September when daily case numbers began to rise. Official tallies show cases falling in recent weeks and authorities have cautiously said the situation is improving.

On Friday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that public transport cards for over 65s would be unblocked from Monday, although he urged people leaving their homes to visit vaccination centres.

"The situation with the pandemic is gradually improving. It is true that we are also seeing worrying signs coming from Brazil and other European countries," he wrote on his website.

Russia has rolled out a mass vaccination campaign with its Sputnik-V vaccine, but so far only 5 million people have received a first shot, out of a population of 144 million.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said deaths across the country had fallen by 21.7% in February, compared to January.

Russia reported 11,024 new cases on Friday, including 1,757 in Moscow, taking the total to 4,301,159 since the pandemic began. (Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov Writing by Alexander Marrow Editing by Tom Balmforth and Peter Graff)