Life expectancy for Russians drops for first time in almost two decades as 323,800 excess deaths recorded during Covid-19 pandemic

Over the course of 2020, life expectancy for those living in Russia fell by more than two years, with the coronavirus death toll setting back ambitious government plans to consistently raise citizens’ average life spans.

Last week, a draft government report on demographics was published by the May Decree channel on Telegram. Since then, two unnamed officials have reportedly confirmed its authenticity to the RBK news network. According to the report’s estimates, life expectancy in the country is now 71.1 years, compared to 73.3 in 2019, before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This marks the first annual decrease since 2003, and challenges a national objective, signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, to raise the average life expectancy of Russians to 78 by 2030. To achieve that goal, authorities had hoped to raise the metric to 75.2 years in 2024. Instead, according to the data, it will take three years just to return to 2019 levels. However, a full demographic report from the statistical agency Rosstat has not yet been published.

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In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US announced that America had seen the largest decline in life expectancy since World War II. Those living in the country are now expected to live for 77.8 years, compared to 78.8 in 2019. Public health officials also warned that the gap in average age of death between ethnic minorities and the rest of the population was growing.

Last week, Italy’s national statics body, ISTAT, announced that the average life span of those living in the country had fallen by close to a year, taking it to 82.3. “Covid-19 completely wiped out life-expectancy gains made over the past decade in the north and partially wiped them out in other areas of the country,” officials said in a statement.

While the overall death toll from the pandemic will always differ depending on the method used to assess it, Russia appears to have seen lower mortality rates than other major European nations such as the UK, Italy and France. At the beginning of March, Rosstat announced that more than 200,000 deaths had been attributed to coronavirus since the beginning of last year.

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However, excess mortality rose steeply in 2020, with 323,800 more deaths overall compared to 2019. While many of these would appear to be linked to Covid-19, others could be attributed indirectly to the pandemic, such as people with chronic conditions unable to access their usual healthcare in the early days of the outbreak, or those who would otherwise have had surgeries and other treatments earlier.

Russia has also announced that its overall population fell by more than half a million people in 2020, driven by a combination of a declining birth rate, rising deaths and the short-term effect of migrants returning home to wait out the pandemic. Moscow had already been concerned about its demographic shifts, and plans to attract and retain migrants to plug the shortfall are apparently in development.

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