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Russia says COVID "under control" despite record infections, bodies lined up in hospital basement

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Moscow — Russia confirmed a record 17,340 new coronavirus cases on Friday, but despite the rise, and mounting deaths, authorities pledged not to reimpose strict lockdown measures across the country and declared the epidemic "under control."

The increase in daily cases — Friday was the first time Russia has recorded more than 17,000 in a single day — brought the total number of confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses in the country thus far to 1,480,646. Russia remains the fourth worst-hit country in the world by the number of confirmed infections.

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Despite the number of new cases and deaths recorded daily being higher than in the spring, Russia's government has thus far declined to follow some European countries that have re-imposed blanket lockdowns. Strict, national measures proved effective at slowing the spread of the deadly virus earlier this year, but they have taken a severe toll on both economies and societies.

"Regarding the possibility of severe, total, restrictive measures, we aren't planning to do this. The government doesn't have any such plans," President Vladimir Putin said in televised remarks earlier this week.

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The official spokesman for the Kremlin said on Friday that the president had not changed his mind on the matter.

"The situation is under control. It is not easy, it is tense, but it is under control," Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Moscow, the capital and the country's largest city with a population of about 12 million, has been among the hardest hit regions. There were 5,478 new cases reported on Friday in Moscow alone. But the virus has also been spreading across less-developed regions, stretching local healthcare systems beyond their capacity.

A horrifying video surfaced on Russian social media feeds this week showing dozens of dead bodies in black plastic bags lined up in a basement hallway at a Siberian hospital. The video, dated October 17, shows the bags on the floor and on gurneys. The unnamed man who shot the video, which was first uploaded to the Telegram messaging app, says all the bodies belong to COVID-19 patients. 

The clip has since been shared widely on Twitter and other platforms, including by the local office of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny's foundation (above).

The health ministry of the Altai region confirmed the video was authentic, saying it showed scenes from inside a dedicated coronavirus hospital in the city of Barnaul. The hospital was initially equipped with 360 beds, but as the number of COVID-19 patients grew the capacity was increased to 600 beds, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

Several hospital employees, including its head doctor and his deputy, have also contracted COVID-19.

Regional officials said the dead bodies in the basement were the result of a shortage of available pathologists amid the current surge in coronavirus deaths. Russian officials require autopsies to be carried out on everyone who dies after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Reports said 98 people have already died at the hospital this month.  

Asked whether the Kremlin was aware of the shortage of both doctors and beds for COVID-19 patients outside Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said on Friday that, "in the regions, measures were taken in advance to prepare for a possible continuation of the epidemic, which we are now witnessing."

He did not elaborate.

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