Out with it

Moscow authorities have been forced to acknowledge that the heat and smoke of the last week have doubled the city’s mortality rates. Some estimates put the number at 2.5 times the normal rate.

This comes after weeks of speculation that the heat — higher than anything recorded since they started recording the temperature 130 years ago — had pushed more bodies into the morgue than in previous summers. (The current daily death rate is about 700, versus 360 under normal circumstances.) Ambulance calls over the weekend peaked — some 10,000 a day — as paramedics kept fainting in un-air-conditioned ambulances and temperatures inside topped 120F.

All of this came with reports that doctors were threatened with losing their jobs if they put down “heat stroke” as a cause of death. Others were banned from speaking to reporters. And this, in turn, is part of a long tradition of the Russian authorities responding to disaster by shutting down, dissembling, and straight-up lying to their increasingly worried and angry subjects. (Think: Kursk, Dubrovka, Beslan.)

This time, however, they’ve at least come out and put a number on it, and this is progress I have to tip my hat to. Russian citizens deserve to know what’s going on, power vertical or indigenous political traditions aside.

Meanwhile, as Russia’s head doctor asks private businesses let their employees skip work till Tuesday, Moscow’s city government doesn’t see the need to declare an emergency situation. They have, however, opened 123 “rest centers,” open daily till 8 pm, where citizens can come escape the smoke and cool themselves under AC. Unfortunately, only one fifth of those are actually open, and of those very few have air conditioning.

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