Russia has launched a monthlong population census that had been postponed several times by the coronavirus pandemic.
Russia is experiencing a demographic crisis, with its population in continuous decline since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. due to a low birthrate, a crumbling health-care system, and emigration that has been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The census is the third since the fall of the Soviet Union, with previous tallies in 2002 and 2010.
The census comes as the country is grappling with a surge in infections, with pandemic highs both for cases and deaths this week amid a lackluster vaccination campaign and insufficient restrictions that would prevent the spread of the virus.
That prompted the authorities to decide to conduct much of the census online, while census workers will be regularly tested for the virus.
Overall, Russia’s coronavirus task force has reported nearly 7.9 million confirmed cases and 220,315 deaths — the highest death toll in Europe and fifth-hardest-hit country in the world.
The state statistics agency Rosstat, which also counts deaths where the virus wasn’t considered the main cause, has reported a much higher toll of pandemic deaths — about 418,000 deaths of people with COVID-19 as of August. If that higher number is used, Russia would be the fourth-hardest-hit country in the world, surging past Mexico.
Many Russians have voiced skepticism about the idea of conducting a census during a pandemic and said they were reluctant to take part.
According to a survey by the SuperJob portal, 19 percent of Russians are not going to participate in the census at all.
According to Rosstat, Russia’s population last year shrank by 510,000 people — the steepest drop in 15 years.
It found that the population, which numbered 146.2 million as of January 1, declined by another 595,000 people by the end of August.
Rosstat includes in its count the population of the illegally annexed Ukrainian region of Crimea — some 2.4 million people.
The decline came despite President Vladimir Putin having announced over the years a litany of financial incentives to encourage Russians to have more children to boost the population.
The census will run until November 14 and preliminary results are expected in April.
With reporting by AFP