MANAGUA (Reuters) – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said on Monday that 309 people have died of pneumonia since January in the Central American country, 87 more people than in the same period last year, but that only some deaths were linked to the coronavirus.
Nicaraguan authorities have reported only eight deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 25 total cases of infection.
Health workers have cast doubt on these figures, noting that hospital wards are packed with patients suffering respiratory problems and that Ortega’s government has not imposed strict measures to contain the outbreak.
Health authorities have not publicly said how many COVID-19 tests have been conducted in Nicaragua, and Ortega did not detail how many of the pneumonia deaths could be tied to the coronavirus.
“Some of them have to do with the pandemic, there are many deaths due to pneumonia as well,” he said on national television. He did not address the cause for the rise in pneumonia, which can produce symptoms similar to the coronavirus.
According to Ortega, 309 people have died from pneumonia this year through May 15, compared with only 222 people in the same period last year.
There were 215 people who died from pneumonia in the same time frame in 2018, and 289 the year before that.
Ortega also noted that the pneumonia death toll was similarly high in 2016, when 329 people died of it, but did not detail why that was.
He added that many of the people who died this year already had other illnesses, making them more vulnerable to pneumonia.
Ortega did not announce any new sanitary measures for the country of more than six million people.
Instead, the 74-year-old former guerrilla leader struck an optimistic note, despite images in news outlets and social media showing lines of families outside Nicaraguan hospitals, seeking news of their ill relatives.
“We have managed to turn back the pandemic,” he said.
(Reporting by Ismael Lopez, Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)