Controversial Russian doctor named top speaker on coronavirus
A Russian doctor who dismissed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic has been appointed the country's top spokesman on the subject, state television reported Thursday.
Alexander Myasnikov appeared on state channel Rossiya 24 as the head of Russia's "Information centre for monitoring the coronavirus situation," following reports of his appointment Wednesday. Myasnikov, who is a head doctor at a Moscow hospital, is often invited on such talk shows and was widely quoted last month with the view that the coronavirus threat was being blown out of proportion.
In an interview to Orthodox channel Spas in March, Myasnikov called Covid-19 "a common cold", and said the chances of becoming infected were extremely small.
"Everything is in the hands of God," he said, claiming that an esoteric "book of fates" used by fortune tellers predicts that "death from coronavirus would befall only several individuals out of billions". "So everybody just relax," he said. "I haven't been ill for 30 years, because I don't believe that any virus can conquer me," he added.
He later conceded that he underestimated the threat on his Telegram channel. Myasnikov is followed by over 180,000 people on Instagram, 65,000 on YouTube and 45,000 on Facebook. During his Thursday morning TV appearance in his new role, Myasnikov repeatedly called on Russians to consult only official sources and blasted a "fake" report about shortages of ventilators in Saint-Petersburg.
News of his appointment drew strong criticism from the opposition. "Now he will keep lying and present 'fake news' as the truth," opposition leader Alexei Navalny wrote on Facebook.
Russia on Thursday registered 3,448 new cases of infection, bringing the total to nearly 28,000, with 232 deaths. In virus epicentre Moscow however the number of new cases fell for the first time in six days.