Spain's coronavirus death toll between March and May was amost 70% higher than the official count at the time, data from the National Statistics Institute (INE) showed on Thursday, prompting the opposition to complain of a government cover-up.
Spain was among the worst-hit European countries during the first wave of infections, with Health Ministry data showing fatalities approaching 900 per day by the end of March - the first month when the pandemic claimed lives in Spain.
The latest INE statistics showed 32,652 people died of a confirmed case of coronavirus over the period, while another 13,032 were suspected to have died of the virus after showing compatible symptoms but were never diagnosed.
COVID-19 indirectly contributed to the deaths of a further 4,218 people over the period, the INE also said.
That compares with an official Health Ministry death toll at the end of May of just 27,127. It now stands at 47,019.
Several other sources, including excess mortality statistics, which compare overall deaths across the country with historical averages, have also suggested that the official data underestimated the true coronavirus death toll.
Asked about the INE data, a health ministry spokeswoman said the discrepancy was due to differing data-collection systems.
While the INE data, based on death certificates, is more comprehensive, results are not obtained until six to nine months after a death, she said. Health ministry data is less exhaustive but available more rapidly, the spokeswoman added.
Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative opposition People's Party, accused the left-wing coalition government of hiding the real figures.
«Spain does not deserve a government that lies and hides Covid deaths. The INE confirms what we already knew and have been denouncing,» he tweeted.
Since Spain entered a second state of emergency in October, the infection rate has dropped sharply, with the number of cases per 100,000 people falling on Wednesday to its lowest level since August.
Health Minister Salvador Illa told a parliamentary hearing on Thursday the imminent arrival of vaccines was cause for hope.
«If everything goes as expected and all the criteria of the European Medicines Agency are met, the first authorised vaccines will arrive in our country in less than a month,» he said.