A definitive count of coronavirus-related fatalities in Mexico will probably not be available for “a couple of years,” the country’s top health official predicted Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

As in most countries, Mexico’s official death toll — over 76,000 as of late Sunday, the fourth-highest total worldwide — is widely understood to be an undercount. But the lack of accurate data has been particularly controversial in Mexico, where some critics contend that the government is deliberately covering up the true number of deaths. Authorities have denied that, saying this summer that staffing shortfalls were preventing hospitals from testing many patients who came in with serious symptoms, including some who later died.

“When will the final statistics on deaths from covid-19 be ready? Certainly, a couple of years after the first year of the pandemic,” Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell said Sunday, according to the AP. He also sought to downplay the importance of calculating an accurate death toll, calling it “one of these technical details” and saying that the true devastation could not be measured.

The nationwide tally of fatalities excludes anyone who did not receive a laboratory test for covid-19, such as anyone who died at home. In early July, officials announced that Mexico City had sustained three times more deaths than normal from March to May, an increase that put it on par with London and New York. At the time, López-Gatell said the excess-mortality figure probably included a significant number of deaths from other causes such as heart attacks that went untreated because hospitals were overwhelmed, but that “it’s probable that the majority are covid.”

Mexico currently has the seventh-highest official count of coronavirus infections worldwide, with just over 730,000 cases, putting it below Colombia and Peru.

The Washigton Post

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