A case of late registration? Total deaths in PH in first half 2020 decline year-on-year

Warren de Guzman, ABS-CBN News and ABS-CBN Data Analytics Team

Posted at Aug 01 2020 01:19 AM | Updated as of Aug 01 2020 01:29 AM

Funeral service workers wearing protective gear bring a citizen, who died while being investigated for COVID-19 symptoms, to a crematorium specifically dealing with coronavirus cases in Quezon City. Rolex dela Pena, EPA

MANILA -- In the time of a coronavirus pandemic, registered deaths in the Philippines declined year-on-year in the first half of 2020, based on Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data.

Preliminary data of the PSA show total registered deaths hit 259,426 for the January to June 2020 period, down 16% year on year from the 309,010 total of 2019’s first half. This PSA prepared chart shows 2020 in purple and 2019 in yellow. The most notable year-on-year gaps or disparities can be seen in March and April, where the number of late registered deaths also increased.

This PSA prepared chart better illustrates the increase in late registered deaths. The PSA defines late registered deaths as those which are only registered over 30 days after the actual fatality. In March this rose 282% year-on-year. For April this rose 182% year-on-year. To what this can be attributed is anybody’s guess at this point. But keep in mind the COVID-19 enhanced community quarantine was announced mid March, and this created problems across all sectors, including government data collection, and especially health and death related services. The PSA notes, as more late registrations come in, the gap between 2019 and 2020 death totals will likely narrow.

The PSA also provided data on registered deaths in cities inside the National Capital Region. The majority of these cities, as shown by the green numbers in this PSA prepared chart, declined year on year. Only 4 cities saw an increase in registered deaths. San Juan had the highest increase by far at 13.3%

The registered deaths data of the PSA do not provide information on the cause of death of each fatality. They are raw totals, so a breakdown of the cause of death would be nice to have later on. Without that data, we cannot say categorically what caused the drop in total registered deaths year-on-year. The reason for the drop could be manifold, as strict quarantine measures starting March actually limited the opportunity for death by accident or crime by keeping the majority of the population at home. The Philippine National Police also noted crime fell sharply during the quarantine months of the year. Their latest estimate, a drop of over 50% year-on-year. The increase in late registered deaths could also play a factor, as quarantine conditions may have prevented the timely registering of fatalities.

As to how this relates to COVID-19, we again cannot say for sure without the breakdown of the raw totals into cause of death categories. We do know the COVID-19 death rate is indeed trending lower. The COVID-19 recovery rate also recently shot up thanks to a huge number of reported recoveries just this week. There are some glimpses of the impact of COVID-19, with the spike in registered deaths in San Juan standing out. San Juan was an early hotspot of COVID-19 at the start of the outbreak in the Philippines. But again, we cannot conclusively link the disease to that spike without the data on cause of death.

Ultimately, we know the deadly virus is still present, and the positivity rate is actually trending higher. While the latest registered death data is encouraging, the Philippines as a whole is not out of the woods yet, and this is certainly no time for complacency.