Six Spanish provinces registered more than twice as many deaths during the coronavirus pandemic as during a regular year, new figures show.
Excess fatalities between early March and early June were highest in Segovia (+147%), Madrid (+122%), Guadalajara (+115%), Ciudad Real (+112%), Soria and Albacete (+103%).
In these six territories alone, there were 20,542 more deaths than the expected count for a normal year. Eight out of 10 (16,000) deaths occurred in Madrid.
Excess deaths are one of the best ways to determine the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic. They are calculated by comparing the number of people who died in a given period of time, as reflected by the death records, against the average number of deaths during that same period in prior years (in this case, over the last five years).
In Spain as a whole, there were 46,089 excess deaths over the period, a 38.8% increase from the expected number, based on historical trends.
This year, due to the exceptional situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the National Statistics Institute (INE) is collecting and publishing Civil Registry records every two weeks. This data does not detail the cause of death, but is merely the sum of all recorded fatalities.
The Daily Mortality Monitoring System (MoMo) typically uses this information to detect spikes during heat waves and the flu season. In this case, while not all excess deaths can be attributed to Covid-19, the spikes are unlike any other seen in the past.
By comparison, the Spanish Health Ministry’s Covid-19 death tally only counts people who were tested for coronavirus and whose test came back positive. And that figure has been stuck for several days at 27,136 following changes to the reporting metholodogy.
A recurring pattern in many provinces is that observed excess mortality is higher than the number of confirmed Covid-19 deaths. This could be due to reporting delays at civil registries, but also to the fact that some people died of Covid-19 without getting tested. Unlike Germany and Belgium (but like Italy and the United Kingdom), Spain does not include the people who died with coronavirus-like symptoms – only those who were tested and whose tests came back positive.
In 12 Spanish territories, the percent of excess deaths over the average expected count was higher than 50% between March and June. All of these areas are located near Madrid and they have good travel connections to the capital.
In Segovia province, during the peak of the pandemic between late March and early April, six times as many people died than normally do on an average year. And during the first week of June, Salamanca was still recording an excess of over 50%.
A second set of provinces shows excess deaths of between 20% and 50%. These include the provinces in the region of Castilla y León, as well as the Basque Country and La Rioja, which registered some of Spain’s earliest outbreaks. Although they rank far below Segovia and Madrid, during the worst of the crisis Navarre and La Rioja were seeing three times as many deaths as expected.
Civil registry records are a very valuable tool for assessing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, although the figures tend to suffer from some delay. Deaths are normally notified two to three days after they occur, but the epidemic has increased these notification times.
It is also worth noting that the lockdown may have reduced the number of deaths from other causes. Car accidents, for instance, reached a historic low during the confinement.
On the other hand, there may have been an excess of deaths from other causes due to the fact that the healthcare system was overwhelmed and that people may have delayed going to the doctor’s or the hospital out of fear. During the month of March, the Spanish Cardiology Society saw a 40% drop in hospital admissions.
English version by Susana Urra.