Why Spain’s true number of coronavirus deaths may be much higher than official figures

Civil Registries claim that the number of death certificates issued since the start of the coronavirus crisis indicate a much high death rate than is reflected by official statistics.

Why Spain’s true number of coronavirus deaths may be much higher than official figures
Coffins lined up at the Collserola funeral parlour in Montcada i Reixac, near Barcelona. Photo: AFP

Justice authorities in Castilla-La Mancha first reported the discrepancy. While the official number of mortalities confirmed as a result of covid-19 by health authorities amounted to 965 deaths during March, the number of burial licences issued were more than three times that amount.

Of course, not all deaths can be blamed on coronavirus but when the number of deaths is close to three times that of the same month in the two years previous, even after taking account of the official coronavirus numbers, it starts to look suspicious.

In March 2018, authorities issued 1,826 burial licences and in 2019, 1,691 were issued. But in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus epidemic in Spain, 3,319 licences were issued in March across the region of Castilla-La Mancha. And yet only 965 deaths were officially recognised as coronavirus mortalities.

Similar discrepancies are emerging in regions across Spain.

In a front page exclusive on Wednesday, El Mundo warned that the true number of deaths from coronavirus across Spain could be double the official number.

Madrid which has been the worst hit region where some 3.539 deaths from covid-19 were confirmed during March saw the number of burial licences surge above nine thousand. And yet according to Spain’s National Statistics Office in March 2019 and March 2018 the deaths recorded were 4,125 and 4,311.

Enrique López, the regional head of Madrid’s Justice Ministry said he believed the discrepancy in numbers were because only those who died in hospital or after a diagnosis tests confirming covid-19 appeared on official numbers.

“There are many people who die in their homes or residential care homes who were never tested so they don’t appear on the official list,” he said in an interview with EsRadio.   

Mortuary workers wearing face masks and gloves carry the coffin of a COVID-19 coronavirus victim at a cemetery in Madrid. Photo: AFP

The number of deaths in Madrid’s elderly care homes during the month of March amounts to an average of around one thousand, confirmed regional government sources quoted in El Diario online newspaper.

But that figure more than tripled last month, and the vast majority were never tested for coronavirus.

The official figure for the number of deaths in Madrid from coronavirus since the outbreak is 5,371 only 110 more than the number of covid-19 deaths recorded in hospitals across the Madrid region, meaning that few other deaths the occur outside of hospitals are being taken into account.

MAP: The provinces of Spain most affected by coronavirus outbreak

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 Coronavirus has swept through elderly residential care homes in the capital with reports of dozens dying in one centre and staff admitting that they didn’t have the resources to care for them or seek emergency medical help.

Without widespread testing that has yet to be introduced many of Spain's most vulnerable are dying of conditions cosnistent with coronavirus but are never diagnosed with it, and therefore do not appear within official numbers. 

Spain's Ministry of Justice acknowledged the problem and said it had waarned regional civil registries where death certificates are issued to ensure they recorded where deaths took place – either in hospital, at home, or in residential care.

“This is the only way to offer true, verified and as objective information as possible, which will also allow health authorities to focus on places where death rates have increased,” said Sofía Puente, the general director of Legal Security.

So far in Spain, the official death toll from the coronavirus is reported to be 13,798 (as of April 7th) but unfortunately, the true number is likely to be much higher.



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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.