Mortality rate doubles in Moscow's smoke and heat

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The death rate in Moscow has doubled as wildfires have blanketed the capital with toxic smoke amid Russia’s worst heatwave in over a century, Interfax cited the city’s health department chief as saying on Monday.

The official, Alexander Seltsovsky, did not give a specific time frame or number of deaths, but indicated heat and pollution were the cause of the increase, according to the report.

“Mortality in Moscow has doubled recently,” Interfax news agency quoted Seltsovsky as saying. Health department officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Moscow was veiled with acrid smoke for a fourth straight day as persistent heat continued to fuel forest and peat fires that officials say have killed 52 people across European Russia since late July.

Authorities have not announced figures for deaths attributed to the heat and pollution that has far exceeded normal levels, prompting suspicion of a cover-up amid criticism of the government’s response to the heat and wildfires.

An unnamed doctor at a Moscow clinic wrote on his Internet site over the weekend that he was wary of diagnosing patients with heat and smoke-related illnesses for fear of dismissal.

Another doctor at a major hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Sunday that senior management had instructed staff not to link patients’ illnesses with the heat.

Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Steve Gutterman