A Russian regional governor’s decision to be treated for COVID-19 in a private Moscow clinic rather than in his own region drew public criticism on Wednesday, as Russia reported a new record daily high of 456 coronavirus-related deaths.
The disparity in healthcare provision between the Russian capital and other regions is something that the Kremlin recognises. It has pumped extra resources into the regions, some of which have complained of staff, equipment and bed shortages, in an effort to narrow that gap.
But in what some saw as a vote of no confidence in regional healthcare and as a sign that the elite always have access to better facilities than voters, Vladimir Sipyagin, governor of the Vladimir region, said on Facebook late on Tuesday that he had the virus and was being treated in a private Moscow clinic.
He portrayed his decision as an altruistic one, saying he did not want to deprive someone of a hospital bed in his own region, about 180 kilometres (112 miles) east of Moscow.
“There aren’t many free beds there, and there are patients in a much more serious condition than me,” wrote Sipyagin. “For some of our fellow countrymen suffering from COVID-19, hospitalisation does not only preserve health but saves lives.”
“This is selflessness! He is sacrificing himself,” Kira Yarmysh, spokeswoman for opposition politician Alexei Navalny, wrote sarcastically on Twitter.
Another Twitter user, Kirill Erlikhman, wrote: “Vladimir Sipyagin is afraid to get treated in his own region… he does not want to officially explain why he refuses to be treated in a regional hospital.”
“A golden individual, he always thinks of the people,” another user wrote.
Asked if Sipyagin should have sought treatment in the region he governs, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was not up to the Kremlin to decide where a person should be treated.
“A person must decide that for themselves,” said Peskov, who spoke of infected governors’ ability to work remotely.
Authorities reported 20,985 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, including 4,174 in Moscow and 129 in the Vladimir region.
With 1,991,998 infections since the start of the pandemic, Russia has the world’s fifth largest number of cases after the United States, India, Brazil and France. Russia has also reported a total of 34,387 deaths.