Updated 7.10pm

Health authorities have dismissed rumours that a 15th coronavirus patient has died and said that official COVID-19 figures published by the health ministry are accurate.

The rumour started circulating on Wednesday morning and was fuelled by data provided by the World Health Organization, which said that Malta had registered 15 COVID-19 deaths so far.

Official figures provided by the Health Ministry on Wednesday stated that 14, not 15, coronavirus patients have died.

A Health Ministry spokesperson confirmed that its figure was accurate.

“No 15th death has been registered,” the spokesperson said.

ECDC apologises for typo

The discrepancy in the number of deaths recorded in Malta also appeared on a separate dashboard maintained by the European Centre for Disease Control. 

By Wednesday afternoon, the ECDC had corrected its figures to note that Malta had 14 recorded COVID-19 deaths. 

In an email seen by Times of Malta, ECDC staff said the mistake was a simple typo.

"We are VERY sorry for this mistake which is due to the fact that we have to collect daily data for 200 countries manually," the email read. 

Maltese health authorities have now contacted WHO to understand whether its figures were derived from the erroneous ECDC dataset. 

Another theory floated to explain the WHO discrepancy is that its analysts counted a Sudanese man who died while trying to escape a detention centre on September 2 among Malta's COVID-19 deaths. 

Sources told Times of Malta that while the victim had tested positive for COVID-19, his death was caused by other factors related to his escape attempt and was not linked to his viral infection. An inquiry into the circumstances leading to the man's death is under way. 

Confusion over figures

The spokesperson also reassured the public that COVID-19 figures published by health authorities were correct, following concerns that case numbers published locally did not match those in the WHO dataset.

“We reconfirm that the official data published earlier by the Health Ministry is accurate,” the spokesperson said, without elaborating.

WHO figures stated that Malta had registered 62 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, in contrast to the 23 reported by local health authorities.     

The WHO also listed 2,076 confirmed COVID-19 cases in total in Malta as of September 8. In reality, Malta had 2,076 confirmed cases by September 7, with that number rising to 2099 by the following day.

Times of Malta is informed that health authorities are speaking to the WHO to understand where the incorrect figures originated from. 

This is not the first time that Malta's official COVID-19 numbers have come under scrutiny. Last month, Times of Malta reported that authorities were struggling to reconcile case numbers on a list kept by Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci with those on a separate list kept by Mater Dei Hospital. 

Gauci later explained that the discrepancy was due to patients who recovered from the virus not being immediately removed from the Mater Dei list. 

"The hospital's main priority is the well-being of patients and so those with COVID-19 are kept on the list for up to three months from their recovery," Gauci had said. 

"This ensures they are detected if they develop any complications after their recovery."

Malta registered 63 new COVID-19 cases between Tuesday and Wednesday while 31 patients recovered. 

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