The Spanish health ministry has just updated the country’s Covid-19 death toll to 28,313 after leaving the figure frozen at 27,136 for almost two weeks while it checked and analysed the data.
The government had been widely criticised for “pausing” the death figures on 7 June, but had defended the move on the grounds that it needed to “review the information on deaths” and establish the date of death, rather than when the death was reported.
Statistics on infections and deaths are collected by each of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions and then given to the central government in Madrid.
Towards the end of May, the health ministry changed its methods for collecting data on cases and deaths, leading to a sharp drop in daily cases and some days when no deaths were reported – despite regional governments reporting fatalities over the same period.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa appears before the parliamentary Commission for Social and Economic reconstruction at the Lower House in Madrid, Spain. Photograph: MARISCAL/EPA
The government argued that the changes had been needed to help it pin down and isolate new outbreaks rather than focusing on the overall picture.
On Friday, the health minister, Salvador Illa, said there have been 34 small outbreaks involving 982 individual cases in Spain over the past four to six weeks. He added that all of the outbreaks were now under control.
Most of the outbreaks were detected among people who had flouted the lockdown to gather for parties, among people working in slaughterhouses, or among seasonal workers or those returning from working abroad.
The government says it is still working to process and provide figures on the number of people who have died from the coronavirus in Spanish care homes. Deaths in homes for elderly or disabled people are expected to account for a significant proportion of all deaths.
Of the 15,043 people who have died from the virus or with associated symptoms in the Madrid region alone, 5,981 were in residential homes.
Mortality figures from the Carlos III research institute in Madrid show that there were 43,360 “excess deaths” – more fatalities than would normally have been expected – in Spain between 13 March and 22 May.
While 77,362 deaths had been anticipated over the period, there were 120,722 – a 56% increase.
The latest figures from the health ministry suggest that confirmed cases of Covid-19 account for at least 64% of those excess deaths.
Sources said that many of the remaining deaths could be down to the virus, but noted that the figures could also be skewed by the fact that many people had been too scared to go to hospital during the height of the pandemic, and may have died at home from strokes or heart attacks as a result.