Fact Check: Lisbon Court Did NOT 'Rule' Only 0.9% Of Portugal's 'Verified Cases' Died Of COVID

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: Lisbon Court Did NOT 'Rule' Only 0.9% Of Portugal's 'Verified Cases' Died Of COVID Mis-Translated

Did a court in Lisbon rule that the COVID-19 death toll in Portugal was 152 and not the 17,000 reported by public health officials? No, that's not true: The claim is based on misidentification of court documents and on excerpting that changes their meaning, leaving out context about autopsy-documented deaths that is vital to understanding what was and was not said. The Lisbon court did NOT issue a ruling that less than one percent of Portugal's "verified cases" of COVID died of the infection.

The claim originated in Portuguese social media posts, which were picked up and repeated in English-language posts like this article published by Great Game India on June 28, 2021, titled "Lisbon Court Rules Only 0.9% Of 'Verified Cases' Died Of COVID, Numbering 152, Not 17,000 As Claimed" (archived here) which opened:

As per a ruling by the Lisbon court, only 0.9% of 'verified cases' died of COVID, numbering 152, and not 17,000 as claimed by the government. The ruling has proved that the government faked COVID-19 death statistics.

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Lisbon Court Rules Only 0.9% Of 'Verified Cases' Died Of COVID, Numbering 152, Not 17,000 As Claimed | GreatGameIndia

As per a ruling by the Lisbon court, only 0.9% of 'verified cases' died of COVID, numbering 152, and not 17,000 as claimed by the government. The ruling has proved that the government faked COVID-19 death statistics.

The official COVID-19 death toll, provided by DGS (Portugal's General Directorate of Health) as of April 18, 2021, was 16,973.

The document cited to support the claim of fakery is a circuit court's responses to a COVID-skeptical citizens group's request for government information about how the DGS classifies COVID deaths. When the agency said it did not have administrative documents to respond to 14 of 16 document requests, the citizens filed a petition demanding information through the Administrative Circuit Tribunal in Lisbon.

The court's response, which is called a "sentenca" (official word) was misrepresented in social media posts as a ruling, which it is not. Any statement from that court is called a "sentenca" even if it is a routine response to petitioners.

The section misused on social media reads, in translation:

"After analysis ....Between 2020 and 2021, 152 death certificates were issued by physicians working for the Ministry of Justice (INMLCF) whose cause basic death was due to Covid-19 (...) Of the 152 death certificates, the 148 deaths were exempted from autopsy (...)."

Poligrafo, the leading Portuguese fact checker, talked to experts who pointed out that autopsies for the Ministry of Justice are only performed in about 5 percent of deaths Portugal, mostly to rule out foul play.

This is a direct quote from POLIGRAFO:

In short, it is false that only 152 deaths of Covid-19 have been registered in Portugal since January 2020. This is the number that the DGS communicated to a group of citizens, after being summoned by a court, concerning only deaths certified by the INMLCF (almost all with autopsy).

News reports in Expresso, a leading Portuguese news site, correctly analyzed the government data release, noting that through mid-April, there were almost 17,000 COVID deaths.

(The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, which tracks COVID-19 case worldwide, reported 17,173 COVID-19 deaths in Portugal as of July 13, 2021.)

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Dean Miller

Lead Stories staff writer Dean Miller has edited daily and weekly newspapers, worked as a reporter for more than a decade and is co-author of two non-fiction books. After a one-year Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy for six years. As Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting, a dual licensee, he oversaw radio, TV and print journalists, and documentary producers. He moved west to teach journalism at Western Washington University, edit The Port Townsend Leader and write the twice-weekly Save The Free Press column for the Seattle Times. Miller won the 2007 national Mirror Award for news industry coverage and he led the team that won the 2005 Scripps Howard first amendment prize. 

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