The big stats race

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, we have spent days checking on numbers: how many new cases have been diagnosed in Spain, in Andalucía, Malaga; how many people have died; and how many people have recovered.

Then we've turned our eyes to what's been going on in other countries, even using vocabulary that you might normally find at a racecourse or an athletics stadium. Spain is two weeks behind Italy, but then the UK sets off three weeks behind Spain. As the figures progress, the UK gains some ground and even overtakes Spain at a point that varies depending on which way the judges are looking.

Everyone has known that the figures have never been exact. We all know of people who have had symptoms identical to those of Covid-19 but never had the test. And then only patients given the PCR type of test are included in the figures, with thousands more testing positive with the faster antibody kits who don't help increase the score at all.

We've all heard how some regions have counted deaths differently from others. That care homes have been an issue where elderly people have died without having been tested and therefore not included. That some figures have taken days to reach the Health ministry and the papers in front of the official with the job of updating followers of the scores at daily briefings.

Now more figures from the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE) have shed some light on the real situation. The significant increase in deaths during the coronavirus crisis compared to other years is no coincidence. This new, unknown and unpredictable virus has been responsible for a lot more grief than it has been credited for.

Grief... Keeping up with the figures, studying the cold graphs, interactive maps and tables produced by the Johns Hopkins University, among others, has kept us so busy we've put up a barrier to protect us from the drama behind each and every one of those numbers.

Thousands of families have been grieving without being able to gather together to bid their last farewell to a loved one, and to the rest of the world their case has just been the difference between a six and a seven or a two and a three on the "scoreboard" of fatalities.

Looking at the figures, though, however inaccurate they may turn out to be, has been the only way of gauging the evolution of the pandemic.

Comparisons have to be made, and hopefully putting figures alongside different government decisions will show us how best to deal with a crisis such as this when it happens again. Or maybe not.