Oppressive heat and waves of toxic
smog in Moscow has seen the death rate reach 700 a day – twice the normal rate.
“The mortality rate has
doubled,” said Andrei Seltsovsky, head of the city’s health department.
There were usually 360 to 380 deaths a day in the city, but “now that
number is about 700”.
The admission came after officials
had tried to play down the threat of the choking haze – caused by wildfires
outside the capital – and temperatures up to 38C.
Russia‘s health ministry issued
a statement denying Seltsovsky’s claim, but there appeared no reason to doubt
his account. If true, it will dramatically increase the death toll from the
hundreds of wildfires that have swept central Russia.
An acrid cocktail of smoke and
pollutants has forced many Muscovites to flee their homes or workplaces in
search of air-conditioned malls, cinemas and cafes. But the weak and elderly
have struggled to escape the smog and debilitating heat.
Russia’s health minister, Tatyana
Golikova, appeared to have been caught off-guard by Seltsovsky’s statement and
ordered his department to provide a detailed report on his “unofficial
assessment”. Another source put the mortality rate lower, at around 450
deaths a day, but said that was nonetheless a record.
Emergencies minister Sergei Shoigi
said that more than 550 fires covering 17,000 hectares were still burning
across Russia. All peat bog fires around Moscow should be extinguished by the
end of the week, he added.
However Roshydromet, the federal
environmental monitoring agency, warned that contamination levels would remain
high for several days. “The air will remain filled with products burning
in forest and peat fires,” it said. The agency has asked factories in Moscow
to temporarily cut emissions by up to 40 per cent.
The fires have claimed 55 lives and
left more than 3,000 people homeless.