SANTIAGO (Reuters) – A rash of accounting glitches in Chile led to the omission of more than 31,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, or nearly one-sixth of the country’s total so far, health officials said on Tuesday.
The cases, discovered during a review of the health ministry’s databases, stemmed back to mid-March, when the outbreak began in Chile, authorities said.
“We have detected that there is a significant number of people who have not been notified or whose status has not been processed and continues to be ‘pending,’” Dr. Rafael Araos, a member of an expert committee advising the government, told reporters in a briefing.
“This group of unreported cases … have positive PCR (exams) and thus constitute confirmed cases,” he said.
The accounting confusion comes as cases are soaring in the South American nation, averaging over 5,000 daily. On Tuesday, Chile reported a total of 184,449 infections and 3,383 deaths from the disease.
The additional 31,412 cases discovered by authorities will be added to Chile’s total tally on Wednesday, Araos said.
As the pandemic has worsened in Chile, health ministry statistics have come under increasing scrutiny.
Last week, a controversy over the reporting of coronavirus-related deaths led President Sebastian Pinera to replace Health Minister Jaime Manalich, a close friend and confidant.
Manalich, who had overseen Chile’s response to the outbreak until now, won praise for an aggressive campaign to keep hospitals supplied with ventilators and protective equipment
but was criticized for successive criteria changes for recording deaths and cases.
South America has become the new epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak, with Chile, Peru and Brazil particularly hard hit.
Chile on Monday extended a state of catastrophe in place since mid-March for an additional 90 days.
The decision gives the government extraordinary powers to restrict freedom of movement and assure food supply and basic services.
Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Richard Chang