2021 Shortlist

Tracking the excess deaths in Spain, day by day

Country/area: Spain

Organisation: elDiario.es

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 31 Mar 2020

Credit: Raúl Sánchez

Project description:

In the last 100 years more than 12,000 people died in Spain in a week until the coronavirus crisis. An investigation by elDiario.es with individual data of more than 15 million registered deaths from 1975 showed that Covid-19 led Spain to the worst mortality crisis in its democratic history. A mortality figure that far exceeds the official deaths by coronavirus published by the Government. This publication is being updated every week. 

Impact reached:

This project compiled for the first time the historical mortality figures from civil registries for the last 45 years. At the worst moment of the crisis, while some public figures still spreading the idea that Covid-19 was a simple flu, this story showed that Spain was registering more deaths than ever during the democratic history of Spain. Measuring the excess mortality shown to be one of the most accurate ways to show real effect of the pandemic while there where thousands of citizend dying of Covid-19 without a positive PCR test. In this information, our readers wree able to see for the first time the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on mortality in their region compared to the last 45 years. The information was updated week after week (and continues to be updated) throughout the epidemic.

This project was one of the most read of the year in elDiario.es and also one of the one that made most people suscribe and pay for elDiario.es during the year, according to our statistics. 

Techniques/technologies used:

R, Rstudio and Excel for data compiling and data analyisis. Datawrapper, D3.js, Javascript and Flourish for data visualization.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of the project was combining the historical mortality databases of the National Institute of Statistics and the most recent mortality figures published by the civil registries. For example, it was necessary to combine the individual microdata of more than 15 million deaths registered between 1975 and 2019, which were incorporated at each moment with a different structure. Later, these figures were combined with data from MoMo, the early warning system for excess mortality, which includes 93% of the Spanish territory with the digitized system, and both databases had to be harmonized to make them as comparable as possible. In addition, most of the processes had to be automated to allow them to be updated quickly one or several times each week.

What can others learn from this project?

During the pandemic data journalist faced a complication, even most of the countries were actively publishing of registered deaths of coronavirus, all of this data showed subregister. Goverments were only incluiding deaths by coronavirus as the ones of people that had positive test for coronavirus, these means that people that died without hospital attention were not being registered or if they died without a PCR test. 

This publication show a metholodogy on how data journalist can use historical death registers to really calculate how many people in dying during the pandemic. All the process and automatization can be replicable once journalist access to public data on deaths of the countries or regions. 


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