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John Burn-Murdoch+ Your Authors @jburnmurdoch Stories, stats & scatterplots for @FinancialTimes | Daily updates of the coronavirus trajectory tracker | [email protected] | #dataviz May. 05, 2020 2 min read + Your Authors

NEW with @laurapitel:

An FT investigation finds Turkey’s Covid death toll may be up to 25% higher than official numbers

Our analysis of deaths in Istanbul finds 3,377 more deaths than usual for the time of year vs 2,706 reported Covid deaths *nationally* 

This one took a lot of work to stand up, so here’s a thread on the process.

Several weeks ago, local reports surfaced saying that, like many countries, Turkey may not be reporting the full extent of its Covid deaths: 

The claim was based on data from Istanbul’s municipal website, where you can look up the names and total numbers of people who died in the city on any given day 

We wrote a scraper that extracted the total numbers of deaths in the city every day going back to January 2015, and right through to today.

That data show a clear and unusual bump in March and April this year relative to the historical average.

That would usually be that, but government officials have pushed back, saying this data actually refers to location of *burial*, not of death.

That matters because they say the lockdown means people who’d usually be buried in their home village are now being buried in the city.

In other words, the government says this data show a displacement, rather than an excess, of deaths.

The usual number of people are dying, but they’re being buried in Istanbul instead of elsewhere.

So, is that true? We decided to find out.

We searched for news reports and obituaries referring to people who died in Istanbul but were buried elsewhere, this year and in recent years, and checked them against the e-register dataset.

Between us, @laurapitel & I quickly identified more than 10 cases where someone died in the city, was buried elsewhere, but *did* appear in Istanbul deaths data.

This suggests it’s not true that the rise in Istanbul deaths is displaced burials: it’s a genuine spike in mortality.

We’ve shared all the examples we found here, with links to the news reports: 

Now, none of this is to say Turkey is exceptional in this regard.

Every country that has faced a major outbreak is struggling to count all of its Covid deaths.

This is as true for the UK and US as it is for Brazil and Ecuador.

But it does underscore the utility of excess deaths as a measure of the true toll of Covid-19.

So we’ve added Istanbul to our excess mortality tracker, taking us to 21 countries, and we’ll keep adding more.

Data and charts on all countries, free to read: 

Hopefully this gives some insight into the work going on behind the scenes of our excess mortality tracker.

We’re leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to bring you the full picture of Covid deaths. In this case we spent several days confirming the numbers for one city.

You can follow @jburnmurdoch.


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