FILE PHOTO: A medical worker holds a syringe with Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a vaccination…
FILE - A medical worker holds a syringe with Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus disease at a vaccination center in St. Petersburg, Russia. Feb. 24, 2021.

Russia’s statistics agency said Friday that more than 200,000 Russians diagnosed with COVID-19 have died, more than double the figure used by the government's coronavirus task force.

Rosstat, a government agency that releases coronavirus data infrequently, said it had recorded 200,432 deaths through January. Those figures included nearly 70,000 people who had the virus at the time of death, but whose main cause of death was not deemed to be COVID-19.

The tally was significantly more the government coronavirus task force's figure, which was 88,285 deaths as of Friday. The task force does not count deaths in which the virus was present but was not ruled the main cause.

The Rosstat figures would give Russia the third-highest COVID-19 death toll in the world, behind the United States and Brazil. 

Rosstat also reported Friday that Russia recorded 323,800 more deaths from all causes in 2020 than it did in 2019, an 18% jump — suggesting that coronavirus-related deaths in the country could be even higher.

In another development Friday, the World Health Organization said investigators who conducted an inspection in China to determine origins of the COVID-19 virus would release a report on their findings in mid-March.

FILE - Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the World Health Organization team tasked with investigating the origins of COVID-19, waves as he arrives at the airport to leave Wuhan, Hubei province, China, Feb. 10, 2021.

Peter Ben Embarek, who led the mission, clarified at a regular coronavirus news briefing in Geneva that an interim report would not be released, as was previously reported.

“To clarify, there was never a plan for an interim report, first of all,” Embarek said. “It was hoped we would get a summary report out,” but “the director-general [Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus] will receive that report from the team in the near future and we will discuss the recommendations.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the WHO team decided not to release its interim account “amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington.”

Another international group of scientists has called for the WHO to conduct a new inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. The scientists calling for the new probe said in an open letter Thursday that the WHO team “did not have the mandate, the independence or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation” in China.

The scientists also noted in their letter that the WHO investigators in China were accompanied by their Chinese counterparts.

The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

Throughout his term, former U.S. President Donald Trump strongly suggested, without evidence, the coronavirus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.

President Donald Trump answers questions from reporters during a event about protecting seniors, in the East Room of the White…
Trump Says Intelligence Points to COVID-19’s Origins in Chinese Lab 
US president tells reporters he has a high degree of confidence in the assessment, getting out ahead of earlier statement by the nation’s lead intelligence agency

The global team of inspectors began its four-week investigation in Wuhan in January and finished it last month.

Italy on Friday surpassed 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. The health ministry reported 24,036 new confirmed cases, the third straight day this week that daily new caseloads exceeded 20,000.

The government said it would further tighten coronavirus restrictions in three of its 20 regions after health officials warned of an increase of cases of more contagious variants.

A poster reading "interminable intermission" is pictured outside the occupied Odeon theater, March 5, 2021, in Paris. Out-of-work French culture and tourism workers are occupying the theater to demand more government support during the pandemic.

France reported 23,507 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday, which was down from the previous week. But officials said the number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 reached its highest level this year.

Canada's drug regulator announced Friday that it had approved Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, the fourth such product to get approval. Canada has also approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Meanwhile, a report in The Guardian said hospitals in Papua New Guinea had run out of money and were “shutting their doors” because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases. The country registered 124 new coronavirus cases in all of February, but there were 108 new infections in the first four days of March.

Auckland, New Zealand, is set to ease its seven-day lockdown on Sunday, moving from alert level three to alert level two because no new community coronavirus cases were recorded Friday. The rest of the country is scheduled to move to alert level one Sunday.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported Friday that there were 116 million global COVID-19 cases. The U.S. remained at the top of the list with almost 29 million infections, followed by India with nearly 11.2 million and Brazil with nearly 10.9 million.

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