During the second wave of coronavirus in Spain, 11,000 more deaths have been observed than the previous year. These are data on excess deaths published by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) based on the information collected by civil registries. A part of this excess could have been due to the heat, but it does not seem to be the case: the Carlos III Health Institute attributes 1,950 deaths this year to high temperatures, which are the same as attributed to him last year.
That figure of 11,000 deaths doubles the official number of deaths from COVID reported by the Ministry of Health (5,400 since July). The graph shows how both figures have evolved, the official deaths from coronavirus and the excess that is observed in civil registries.
Different factors can explain this difference. On the one hand, the ministry’s protocol only considers deaths confirmed with a diagnostic test, but the people who die without testing, contrary to what happened in March, should be very few.
Another possibility is that the information released by the ministry is out of date or incomplete. The excess data collected by the INE make it necessary to look at the official figures with concern: ¿they still have problems? We know that the SiViES system, through which communities communicate the data published by Health, accounts for half of the covid admissions of those reported by the hospitals themselves. A similar problem could explain part of that difference between the 5,400 deaths of the ministry in SiViES and the 11,000 of the excess that the registries observe with respect to last year (10,800 over the average of the last five years).
A third option is that the excess includes deaths from other pathologies. Patients who have not been diagnosed in these months of crisis or who have received worse treatment. Those deaths would be seen as an excess, but not in the official statistics of deaths from coronavirus, as is logical. They would also be anomalous deaths, which cannot be attributed to the covid-19 disease, but to the health crisis that the virus has caused.
The evolution since March
The graph shows the daily evolution of official deaths from coronavirus (ministry) and the excess observed in civil registries compared to the previous year (INE):
The highlight of the chart is the first wave: an excess of 47,000 deaths that was recorded in spring. There it can also be seen that the official figures were late. Civil registries counted thousands of deaths in March that were only added later. The INE statistics, which has been published every two weeks since June, shows how the Ministry of Health continued to count deaths in May and June that according to the records had occurred earlier.
A peak is also observed in early August. So surely an undetermined volume of deaths from coronavirus coincided with the effects of a heat wave, which is a common source of mortality spikes. According to the Carlos III Health Institute, high temperatures could have caused up to 2,000 deaths in two to three weeks around the beginning of August. The figure is the same as last year, although then the peaks were in July.
Normality has not returned since that excess of early August. More deaths have been recorded than in previous years, reaching 11,000 more than last year. That number brings the excess observed since March to almost 59,000 deaths. According to the INE figures, that would be the bill for this crisis, although the official number of deaths from covid only counts 33,000.
Deaths by communities
The impact of the second wave is also seen by autonomous communities: Aragon, Extremadura, Castilla y León, La Rioja, Andalusia, Balearic Islands, Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia have registered an excess of more than 14% since July. The table shows the excess observed in your civil records with respect to the previous year (in absolute terms, percentage and per 100,000 inhabitants). Official deaths according to Health are also included.
Aragon registers the highest excess since summer. It stopped the outbreak in July, but the fatalities continue to pile up steadily. Worrying excesses are also observed in other regions where the virus is hitting hard, such as Castilla y León or La Rioja, which currently have a higher excess than other communities with more incidence, such as Madrid and Navarra.
Andalusia and the Valencian Community have excesses of 15% and 13% in summer, although their official deaths do not account for even a quarter of deaths. Why is this difference? A part can be attributed to the high temperatures, but surely not all. In fact, the Valencian Community registers in September, with less heat, an excess of which official deaths from covid only explain half.
All these figures are even worse if we go back to March. For every three people from Madrid who should have died under normal conditions, this year five have died. This proportion has been three for every two Castilian-Manchegos or seven for every five Catalans.
These data confirm that the excess of deaths registered during the current crisis has no comparison with anything that has happened in recent years. In 2019, some 2,000 deaths were attributed to the heat peaks and the previous one about 800. In January 2019 there was also an outbreak of flu, which was perhaps an excess of 3,000 deaths. But none of those numbers is comparable to the 58,000 excess deaths recorded since March.
Excess mortality in other countries
According to the data collected by the specialized website Our World In Data, from the University of Oxford, Spain this year would have the worst excess of deaths among thirty countries, 25% more than normal. Italy has an excess of 23% (no data since July, but its second wave is mild for now), followed by the United Kingdom (20%), United States (19%), Belgium (15%), the Netherlands (13% ), Portugal (12%), France (11%) and Sweden (10%).