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Coronavirus: The difficult process of counting the dead

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Paris, France—The daily count of fatalities of the COVID-19 pandemic, whose official toll has now passed 210,000, is a sensitive business, with data often incomplete and differing methods between countries.

WAITING. A cemetery worker wearing protective gear waits for an unclaimed COVID-19 victim, at the municipal cemetery No. 13 in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on April 21, 2020. AFP File Photo

Hospitals, care homes

Germany, Luxembourg, South Korea and Spain count all deaths of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, whether they take place in hospital or elsewhere.

In Belgium, where care homes have officially accounted for more than half the deaths, the figures include even people who have not been tested, but are suspected of having been infected.

France also counts deaths in care homes, which make up more than a third of the number.

Other countries, such as China and Iran, only count deaths in hospital in their daily tolls.

That is also the case in Britain. More complete figures are published every week by the Office for National Statistics, but with a time lag of 10 days, and these figures do not include deaths in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In Italy, which has Europe's highest official death toll, only the biggest retirement home hotspots are accounted for, according to the Civil Protection.

In the United States, which has the highest death toll in the world at more than 50,000, the counting method varies from one state to another: while New York counts deaths in care homes, California does not.

COVID-19, or another disease?

Some countries, such as Belgium, Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, South Korea and Spain include in their figures all the people who have tested positive for the coronavirus, even those who died of complications from a pre-existing condition. Other countries are more selective. 


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