Putin boasts Russia weathered pandemic better than West

By: AFP      Published: 09:00 PM, 17 Dec, 2020
Putin boasts Russia weathered pandemic better than West

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia has managed the pandemic better than many Western countries and announced he will be vaccinated with his country's flagship Sputnik V virus jab.

Putin praised Russia's virus response during his annual marathon press conference, a highly orchestrated event held via video link this year because of the pandemic

Even though officials in Moscow have registered one of the world's highest caseloads, and the suffering economy has been hit badly by coronavirus restrictions, Putin said Russia had stepped up to the challenge "with dignity".

He claimed the country had weathered the crisis "maybe even better than other countries in the world", but conceded the pandemic had left Russia facing a "huge number of problems".

Health officials on Thursday said Russia had a total of 2.76 million confirmed cases and nearly 50,000 deaths.

Russia's low fatality count compared with other badly-hit countries has sparked concerns that authorities have played down the severity of the outbreak.

Those worries were compounded by data published last week from Russia's statistics agency that 165,000 more people had died between March and October this year compared with 2019.

"Of course, no healthcare system in the world was ready for what we faced," Putin said, claiming that the Russian system "turned out to be more effective" than others. 

Authorities have held back on imposing a second lockdown despite a recent surge in cases as a way to preserve the economy, particularly in poorly funded regions beyond Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Russia's government predicts the economy will shrink by 3.9 percent this year, while the Central Bank expects an even deeper decline.

Putin said Thursday that the decrease -- which he put at 3.6 percent -- was "less than practically all leading countries of Europe and the European Union. Less than in the United States."

Very good result

Russia has instead pinned its hopes on ending the pandemic on its vaccine dubbed Sputnik V after the Soviet-era satellite.

The 68-year-old president told reporters he would get vaccinated as soon as health experts approved its use for people his age.

The vaccine has so far got the green light for people aged between 18 and 60 without chronic illnesses.

Sputnik V was registered in August, months ahead of its Western competitors and before the start of large-scale clinical trials, which are still under way. 

Its developers say interim results show the shot is more than 90 percent effective.  

Putin said at his press conference that by the start of next year Russia will have access to "millions of doses of the vaccine". 

But Western and Russian experts have raised concerns over the fast-tracked jab and critics have described it as a tool to bolster Russia's geopolitical influence.

Russia says India, Venezuela and Belarus are taking part in trials while developers have boasted of pre-orders of more than 1 billion doses from foreign governments. 

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced last week it will incorporate part of the Russian vaccine into its version to try to enhance performance in future clinical trials of its jab, which showed an average efficacy of 70 percent. 

"I am sure the result will be very good -- and not just for our citizens but for the whole world," Putin said Thursday, commenting on the partnership with the British-Swedish drugmaker.