CORONAVIRUS

Spanish Health Ministry lowers coronavirus death toll by nearly 2,000

The discrepancy has been attributed to the elimination of duplicate records and the fact that regions had reported suspected Covid-19 fatalities as confirmed cases

A woman places flowers in the Poblenou cemetery in Barcelona.
A woman places flowers in the Poblenou cemetery in Barcelona.Albert Garcia

The Spanish Health Ministry on Monday revised downward the official coronavirus death toll in Spain. The total number of victims since the beginning of the pandemic stood on Sunday at 28,752. But on Monday, the figure reported was 26,834. This represents a drop of 1,918, or 7% of the total. The revision breaks the statistical series and devalues the figures reported in the previous days, given they can no longer be compared with the new ones. Following the evolution of the epidemic will be impossible until the Health Ministry reconstructs the series.

Speaking at the government’s daily press conference on Monday, Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, said that the discrepancy was due to “several factors,” including the “elimination of duplicates,” and the fact that regions had reported some victims as confirmed Covid-19 cases, even though the diagnosis had not been supported by PCR testing. The northeastern region of Catalonia saw the biggest downward revision, with nearly six in 10 fatalities (59%) disappearing from the official count. This represents 1,116 fewer deaths that the number reported on Sunday.

A regional source told EL PAÍS that mistakes may have also happened when the Health Ministry changed the notification system on May 11. Before this date, the regions reported data in an aggregated manner. Afterwards, a new diagnosis strategy came into effect which meant that cases had to be notified on an individual basis, with more precise data that included, for example, the notification date and the date of diagnosis or death. In addition to this information, the regions also had to note when the patient began experiencing coronavirus symptoms.

Simón maintained that the figures now are “more representative of the current situation” because they are based on the date of diagnosis or death, not the date of notification, which may have occurred days or weeks later. “We are satisfied with the quality of the information,” he said, adding that all figures reported by the Health Ministry are provided by regional authorities. “The information is more precise to assess what is happening now. Before this, the data did not correspond to what was happening,” he explained. To understand the real number of coronavirus infections, it is important to know exactly when each case was diagnosed and began showing symptoms, something that was previously unknown.

According to the latest figures, there were 132 new coronavirus cases on Sunday. Several regions including the Balearic Islands, Cantabria and Castilla-La Mancha did not report a single new infection. The accumulated rate is 2.18 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, with symptoms showing in the past two weeks.

Coronavirus-related fatalities

The Health Ministry reported 50 coronavirus-related deaths on Monday. This figure, however, no longer corresponds to fatalities recorded in the previous 24-hour period, but rather to the past week. But Monday’s figure also contrasts with the data health authorities have been recording in recent days. The number of coronavirus deaths was 70 on Sunday, 48 on Saturday, and 83 last Tuesday.

Regional health authorities in Madrid and Catalonia stated on Monday that the fatality figures reported by the Health Ministry did not correspond to their data, although all the figures reported by the central government come from the regions. Last week, Catalonia reported 600 extra coronavirus deaths that had taken place over previous days, which forced the historical series to be remade again.

Fewer infections and hospitalizations

There were more discrepancies in the total number of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. On Monday, the Health Ministry put the total number of Covid-19 cases, as confirmed by PCR tests, at 235,400. This is below the 235,772 reported on Sunday, and despite the fact that 132 new infections had been reported.

In the case of hospitalizations, the total number reported since March was 122,439 on Monday, compared to 124,845 on Sunday. The Health Ministry will have to rebuild the historic series and attribute the cases to the day on which they were diagnosed, if that information is available.

According to the latest figures, 11 patients were admitted into intensive care. This figure, like the number of coronavirus deaths, corresponds to the past seven days. The same method is applied to the number of hospital admissions, which was put at 256 on Monday.

Confusion over figures

Regional authorities in Madrid and Catalonia said that they do not understand where Monday’s figures have come from, at least with respect to the number of fatalities. Sources from the Madrid regional government say the correct data was published on their website, which shows 8,994 coronavirus-related deaths in hospital. The regional government in Catalonia, on the other hand, said that it had reported its figures as usual, but with the new system designed by the Health Ministry, which has had problems loading data, reports Jessica Mouza. Catalan authorities maintain that the total number of deaths in the region is 6,748, not 5,575 as reported by the central government.

The daily report signaled that the discrepancies were the result of the validation of the figures by regional authorities and the “transition to the new vigilance strategy” of the outbreak. It warned: “This discrepancy could continue for several days.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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