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Posts misrepresent Portugal’s COVID-19 death count

January 5, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: A court in Portugal ruled that only 152 people died of COVID-19 in the country, not 17,000.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. More than 19,000 COVID-19 related deaths have been reported in Portugal, not 152.

THE FACTS: Social media users are misrepresenting figures from Portugal to make it seem like the country was inflating deaths related to COVID-19.

In May, Portugal’s General Directorate for Health was asked how many COVID-19 deaths were confirmed by autopsy. The agency responded to the request stating that 152 death certificates had been recorded at the time by doctors working for the Ministry of Justice, which performs forensic medical autopsies. At the time of the request, the country had recorded 16,945 COVID-19 deaths in total, according to the Ministry of Health.

A majority of death certificates in the country are issued by doctors in the Ministry of Health, not the Ministry of Justice.

Autopsies performed by the Justice Ministry take place when there is a violent death or an unknown cause, according to the agency. Autopsies are not performed on most deaths related to COVID-19.

“In other words, forensic medical autopsies aim, namely, to support criminal investigations, and are not, as a rule, carried out in situations of natural death by COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement.

As a result, the number being circulated online did not reflect total deaths in the country, nor did it prove that health officials were increasing Portugal’s COVID-19 death count.

According to the Health Ministry’s daily report for Jan. 5, Portugal had recorded a total of 19,029 COVID-19 deaths.

False claims about the number of COVID-19 deaths in Portugal circulated in July and resurfaced this week as the omicron variant surges around the globe. One post sharing the false claim was retweeted on Twitter about 9,000 times.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.