4 Jun, 2020 @ 14:41
2 mins read

EXPLAINED: What is going on with Spain’s confusing COVID-19 figures and why are Government numbers different to regions?

Pedro Sanchez Comparecencia 2020

YESTERDAY Spain registered its first coronavirus-related death since Sunday.

This low death rate should have further buoyed a country that is already heading back to the beaches and bars as summer beckons.

However, Spain has been left confused and distrusting of its Government’s reporting of the COVID-19 statistics.

Despite the Government’s reporting of the first death in three days on Wednesday, Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha reported 17 deaths between them.

But a Health Ministry spokesperson said that they had not been made aware of any deaths for 24 hours.

Yet despite the admittance of just one death by the Ministry, the weekly cumulative death toll went from 34 to 63.

As the Olive Press reported, this was at odds with the Ministry’s account, which claimed the number of those to have died increased by just one to 27,128.

However going back even further, the initial confusion was sparked by the Ministry of Health towards the end of May, as it reported that the COVID-19 death toll had dropped by almost 2,000 overnight.

This huge re-adjustment was, a spokesperson claimed, due to the ‘transition to the new surveillance strategy’.

“The figures are driving us crazy,” said the head of the Health Systems Research Group of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, Jeffrey Lazarus.

“There is 100% for sure a data problem.”

But what is really going on here and is the Spanish Government ‘cooking the books’ with the numbers?

Firstly, the Government has stopped reporting the number of deaths that are registered in the last 24.

Instead it now reports the number of deaths to have occurred in the last seven days, but only if these come within 24 hours of Government bulletins.

Other deaths are added once a week when the Government updates the death toll.

One factor which has compounded the problems around the reporting of deaths is that Spain’s 17 autonomous communities have sometimes provided inaccurate and late data.

The Government has said that it will continue to use up-to-date information, excluding that which is reported late.

This therefore decreases the Ministry of Health’s overall totals, generating confusion.

One argument put forward by the Government has been that focusing on the quick detection of infections as opposed to deaths, is more aligned with the current stage of the pandemic.

A Ministry spokesperson said: “We are interested in the cases that are active now, that can infect people today, where symptoms have developed over the last one or two weeks.”

One other element of confusion has been the figure of 48,000, released by the Institute of National Statistics (INE) this week.

This figure, based on excess mortality, is an estimate of the number of people to have died due to COVID-19.

The INE has said that 48,000 more people died between mid-March and the end of May in 2020, compared to the same period last year.

The INE’s data comes from the Carlos III Health Institute, which takes its data from the Ministry of Health and civil registries.

One other explanation offered by the Government for the huge discrepancy in COVID-19 deaths between the INE and Ministry of Health numbers is the difficulty involved in determining whether deaths are coronavirus-related or not.

Researcher and economist Francisco Javier Velazquez tried to explain some of the confusion.

He said: “It is very difficult to discern what is death by COVID-19 and what is a derived death, that is to say, of people who had another disease and the coronavirus did not actually kill them but it did accelerate it.”

He added that he regretted that Spain ‘no longer includes the cause of death in the civil registry, when it did before and could be two causes’.

Spain’s coronavirus data has changed more than any other country but Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Spain could be proud of its ‘absolute transparency’.

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