Coronavirus
López-Gatell responds to the reports in a video message. López-Gatell responds to the reports in a video message.

Minister sees ‘lack of rigor’ in stories about underreporting of Covid deaths

López-Gatell insinuates that coverage was politically motivated

Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell has rejected reports in foreign newspapers on that claimed coronavirus case numbers and deaths in Mexico are higher than those reported by the federal government.

He also implied there were political reasons for the stories in that all “appeared almost simultaneously” on the same day that health officials had predicted would see the peak of the Covid-19 epidemic in Mexico City.

He said furthermore that they were widely shared on social media, mainly by people “linked to previous administrations,” the pharmaceutical and other health sector businesses or people with political aspirations.

The reports appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the Spanish newspaper El País.

The Times reported on Friday that the federal government is not reporting hundreds or possibly thousands of Covid-19 deaths identified by authorities in Mexico City, the Journal said that it is underreporting deaths because “many patients aren’t being tested for the virus, even if they die,” while El País said that it estimated that between 620,000 and 730,000 people in Mexico have had Covid-19, figures 20 and 23 times higher, respectively, than the current number of confirmed cases.

Responding to the claims, the deputy minister said:

“The deaths of people suffering from Covid cannot always be proven … because people suffering from Covid are arriving frequently [at hospitals] … in a serious state that doesn’t allow laboratory tests to be done. … [For] these laboratory tests, the corresponding samples could be taken after death but this rarely happens.”

“As a result, we have people who … lost their lives and have had the clinical symptoms suggestive of Covid but [their deaths] are not recorded as Covid because there is no laboratory proof.”

López-Gatell said a “technical committee” of medical specialists analyzes such cases and “can form an opinion with respect to the probability that a person effectively died due to Covid,” he said.

However, he didn’t specify how long it takes the committee to analyze the deaths and add them to the official death toll if they are deemed to have been caused by the disease.

The deputy minister took particular umbrage at The New York Times report, which said that Mexico City officials “have tallied more than three times as many fatalities in the capital than the [federal] government publicly acknowledges, according to officials and confidential data.”

covid victim
Official figures show 729 people have died from Covid-19 in Mexico City, but foreign news reports suggest the figure is much higher.

The Times report also said that Mexico City authorities have alerted the federal government repeatedly about the deaths, “hoping it will come clean to the public about the true toll of the virus on the nation’s biggest city.” It also that in some hospitals in the capital “patients lie on the floor, splayed on mattresses” and “elderly people are propped up on metal chairs because there are not enough beds.”

López-Gatell asserted that the Times‘ claim of a discrepancy in the data demonstrates a “lack of [journalistic] rigor” on the part of the newspaper.

“We maintain extremely close collaboration with Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and her entire team. Besides, the health authorities of the 32 states of the country are the ones that generate the [coronavirus statistical] information; all the information that is in the federal government’s possession comes from the states,” he said.

The Times claimed that Sheinbaum began to suspect that federal data was flawed a month ago but has not spoken out publicly because she doesn’t want to embarrass President López Obrador, her close political ally.

However, the mayor rejected the claim. “It appears that the objective [of the report] is to say that we’re in conflict [with the federal government], that we’re contradicting each other and lack coordination and that’s very far from the truth. We’re in complete coordination,” she said.

Sheinbaum confirmed that the federal government’s coronavirus data on deaths in the capital is correct.

López-Gatell invited international reporters to attend the Health Ministry’s coronavirus press briefing to clear up any doubts they might have.

Responding to the remarks made by Sheinbaum and López-Gatell, the New York Times bureau chief for Mexico and the journalist who wrote the newspaper’s report charged that neither had “refuted the information of our report” or those of the other newspapers.

“We would like clarifications, not statements that distract but don’t respond,” Azam Ahmed wrote on his Twitter account. “Could it be that there is an international media conspiracy, or is it that the Mexican government isn’t telling the whole truth?”

Source: Milenio (sp) 

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