MOSCOW (Reuters) – The city of Moscow’s health department said on Thursday it would begin regarding all pneumonia patients as potential sufferers of the new coronavirus and route them to hospitals accordingly, after doctors raised concerns about the accuracy of tests used to diagnose the virus.

The policy change was made at the request of doctors at hospitals specially designated to treat the new coronavirus, which often causes pneumonia. Tests for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, were producing accurate results only 70%-80% of the time, the doctors said.

The policy change is likely to add weight to arguments made by critics who say the official number of new coronavirus cases in Russia is lower than the real figure, because many cases have been classified as simple pneumonia.

Reuters reported last month that a sharp spike in the incidence of pneumonia in Moscow had fuelled concerns about the reliability of official data on the number of cases, which at the time was well below levels seen in other European capitals.

“The accuracy of existing tests used to detect COVID-19 is at 70%-80%,” Denis Protsenko, chief doctor at Moscow’s main coronavirus hospital, Kommunarka, was cited as saying in a statement, published on the website of the city’s health department.

“In some cases, the tests give false negative results, and the proportion of such results is significant,” Protsenko was cited as saying.

The doctors, members of a new clinical committee bringing together the heads of Moscow hospitals treating COVID-19 patients, said most pneumonia cases were being caused by the new coronavirus.

The proposal would mean that patients diagnosed with pneumonia, who had not yet received COVID-19 test results, would be treated as coronavirus patients and taken to appropriate hospitals.

“Based on the consensus of the members of the COVID-19 clinical committee, a Department of Healthcare order has been issued to change the principles of patient routing, diagnosis and clinical decision-making during the admission stage,” the city’s health department head Alexei Khripun was cited as saying.

Russia has reported 10,131 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, with 6,698 in Moscow.

(Reporting by Polina Ivanova and Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Polina Ivanova, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)