The coronavirus death toll in Mexico City is five times higher than federal government data shows, claims a report by British media organization Sky News.
Published on Wednesday, the report says that crematoriums in the capital have three-day backlogs of bodies as deaths surge in both Mexico City and neighboring México state.
Sky said that an investigations team working in Mexico City gained access to morgues and storage rooms full of bodies, and they too indicate that the data presented by the federal Health Ministry at its nightly coronavirus press briefings is wrong.
According to official data presented on Tuesday, 937 people in Mexico City have died after testing positive for Covid-19 while the death toll in México state – which includes many municipalities that are part of the greater metropolitan area of the capital – is 378.
But Sky News says it was told by an official within the government – it didn’t specify whether it was referring to the federal or Mexico City government – that the Health Ministry figures are undercounting the real death rate by a factor of at least five.
The Sky News report comes five days after The New York Times reported that officials in Mexico City “have tallied more than three times as many fatalities in the capital than the [federal] government publicly acknowledges.”
Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum denied that the fatality numbers reported by the federal government for the capital are wrong, while Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell – Mexico’s coronavirus point man – accused the Times of a “lack of rigor” in its reporting. For his part, President López Obrador charged that the newspaper lacks ethics.
But Sky News said that on-the-ground evidence and an analysis of fatality numbers in Mexico City and México state in early May compared to the same month in previous years support the claim that Covid-19 deaths are being drastically underreported.
It said that it accessed multiple hospital morgues as well as hospital rooms filled with bodies in bags, “lying on gurneys or even stacked on wooden pallets because the morgue fridges are already full.”
The autopsy lab of one hospital is being used to store bodies, Sky said, making the examination tables redundant. It said that none of the temporary morgues at hospitals were refrigerated and that medical staff confirmed that all the bodies stored in them were victims of Covid-19.
Sky News also said that burning capacity at every public crematorium in the capital is overwhelmed, creating a three-day backlog for cremations. Reports in Mexican media this week also said that crematoriums in Mexico City are saturated and that some families are choosing to take the bodies of their loved ones to México state for cremation.
“Black smoke billows out over cemeteries as the ovens are cremating on an industrial level in the city but the bodies don’t stop coming. … In full hazmat suits, crematorium staff are working around the clock bringing bodies to huge ovens for disposal,” Sky said.
“The number of people being cremated is staggering, as is the volume of hearses and traffic around the crematoria. The queues are endless.”
The media company said that analysis of data from 30 crematoriums in Mexico City shows that each one is currently cremating between 18 and 22 bodies per day and each has a three-day backlog.
“Taking an average number of 20 cremations, Sky has calculated the total number of cremations every day is 600. This figure does not include other crematoria or burials,” the report said.
That daily number of cremations is much higher than the average of 374 deaths per day that occurred in both Mexico City and México state during the month of May between 2014 and 2018, Sky said. Logically, not all of the México state deaths would have occurred in municipalities that are part of the Mexico City metropolitan area.
In any case, Sky concluded that at least 226 extra deaths are occurring “every day in early May” in the Mexico City area and that most were probably caused by coronavirus.
The news organization said that it was told by crematorium sources that 80% to 90% of the bodies they are currently cremating are Covid-19 victims.
“Assuming 80% of the excess deaths dealt with by crematoria are due to coronavirus, Sky’s analysis suggests the government’s official figure is just 19% of the true number of Covid-19 deaths in the Mexican capital and the actual figure is around five times higher than the health department’s website would indicate — the same amount we were told by our source,” the report said.
Sky said that it asked the government to explain the discrepancy but it didn’t respond.
One man whose brother-in-law died after developing coronavirus-like symptoms told Sky that the government is “obviously lying” about the number of Covid-19 deaths.
“Here everything is a mess, they are not going to give you exact numbers, and I am not just talking about Mexico City, but the entire country,” he said while waiting for his sister outside a cemetery in the borough of Iztapalapa.
Sky also said that it spoke with senior private sector medical specialists who said that they warned the government of the impending epidemic in January but were told that there was nothing it could do.
“It has fueled speculation among people familiar with the true figures that the government is going to try to tough out the virus spread and deal with the fallout later. Failing to publish accurate death rates appears to be part of a strategy of containing panic in the worst hit poorer parts of Mexico City,” the report said.
But even as total coronavirus-related deaths approach 4,000, “the government’s failure to publish the real [fatality] numbers has left Mexico in denial of the pandemic,” Sky News chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay said in a video report that accompanied today’s article.
“The upward curve of death looks set to rocket, the health service can’t cope and social distancing, let alone lockdown, is largely being ignored in Mexico City,” the Sky report said, contradicting data presented by the Health Ministry on Tuesday night that showed that mobility in the capital has been 65% lower than normal for more than a month.
Still, “short of a vaccine or a miracle,” Sky concluded, the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on Mexico City “could be utterly catastrophic.”
Mexico News Daily