Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday the coronavirus situation in Dagestan required urgent attention after a top official said hundreds of people in the region might have died from the virus.
“The situation in the Republic of Dagestan is complicated and of course calls for additional - and urgent measures,” Putin told a meeting in Moscow.
He said the poor North Caucasus region - which has the fifth-highest number of coronavirus cases in Russia - should receive additional equipment, medicines and tests.
“I want you to know and be assured - all of Russia will be with Dagestan now,” he said, addressing residents of the region.
According to the most recent official tally released on Monday, Dagestan has reported 3,460 coronavirus cases and just 29 deaths.
However, the local health minister said on Saturday that more than 12,600 people were suffering from the coronavirus and pneumonia.
Speaking in an interview with a local blogger, Dzhamaludin Gadzhiibragimov added that 657 people had died of pneumonia in the region.
Over 40 medics have died from coronavirus or pneumonia in Dagestan, Gadzhiibragimov added.
Critics accuse the Russian authorities of under-reporting the number of deaths to downplay the scale of the crisis.
In particular, opponents have accused the government of manipulating the figures by passing coronavirus deaths off as community-acquired pneumonia and other conditions.
Patients with more severe cases of COVID-19 may develop pneumonia, according to the World Health Organization.
The regional health ministry was not available for comment on Monday.
The Russian authorities have denied falsifying the numbers, saying they are only counting deaths caused directly by the coronavirus.
Many medical workers in Dagestan and elsewhere have complained of shortages of protective gear and say medics are dying at a higher rate in Russia than elsewhere.