The pandemic in Russia and the bankruptcy of national-chauvinist politics

The pandemic continues to exact a terrible toll in Russia. Since the invasion of Ukraine, efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 have been abandoned. This essay has been submitted to the World Socialist Web Site by the Young Guard of Bolshevik Leninists, an organization of Trotskyist youth in Russia.

On Tuesday, July 19, the Rospotrebnadzor press service reported the detection of the new Omicron BA.2.75 subvariant in five people in Russia. The press service wrote, “The material was sampled in July. The material was collected in the city of Moscow. The disease had a mild form in all the patients. There are no hospitalized patients.”

Previously, this heavily mutated Omicron subvariant has been found in India, Australia, Germany, Great Britain, the United States, Canada and the Netherlands. With the Omicron BA.5 subvariant currently dominant in Russia and throughout the world, it is difficult to say whether this new BA.2.75 subvariant can be considered particularly dangerous, capable of causing another wave of coronavirus around the world. What is certain, however, is that Russia’s health system is unlikely to be able to continue to withstand blow after blow from the pandemic.

According to official figures, which are significant undercounts, the pandemic has already killed about 382,000 people in Russia. Estimates of excess deaths place the real death toll in Russia above 1.2 million, among the highest per capita excess death rates in the world.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a gradual increase in the number of official cases, typical of all initial periods of coronavirus waves, indicating a real threat of a new pandemic wave in the coming weeks and months. Since reaching a trough on July 1, the seven-day average of daily new cases has risen by 79 percent, from 2,941 to 5,264. Genomic sequencing data from Russia is only available through July 4, but by that point the Omicron BA.5 subvariant already accounted for 33 percent of all cases and likely became dominant the following week and is fueling the current rise in cases.

Medics wearing special suits to protect against coronavirus treat patients with coronavirus at an ICU of a hospital in Volgograd, Russia, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexandr Kulikov)

Officially, roughly 18.5 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in Russia, also known to be a vast undercount. As is the case globally, the health care system has been under constant pressure for the past two-and-a-half years. Amid this deepening crisis, the Putin regime is gradually changing its own propaganda. It is increasingly ignoring the issue of the pandemic, bringing to the fore the “special military operation” in Ukraine, where Russia is not only waging a war against Ukraine, but also a proxy war against the US-NATO powers.

According to Russia’s draft federal budget for 2022–24, Russia has no plans to increase spending on health care by 2024, while adopting a 7.1 percent and 8.5 percent increase in spending on “national security” and “national defense,” respectively.

It is possible that BA.5 or BA.2.75 could trigger a new pandemic wave. For the working class, the hard times of confronting a pandemic are once again approaching. The class struggle could deepen in tandem with the new wave, beginning with health workers and then spilling over to other sectors of the country’s economy.

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