Photo: FoNet/Slobodan Miljevic

We Did Not Hide Information on Infected and Deceased

“The unofficial stories from various parts of Serbia that there were more deaths than we had reported is a grave accusation. Let me tell you why. Because we did not hide any information, not only when the first case was registered but also before that.”, 21.05.2020
Ana Brnabic,


On 21 June, when the Prime Minister Ana Brnabic was answering the questions of BIRN journalist on what was her comment on the unofficial claims coming from various parts of Serbia that number of deaths was higher than reported, emphasised that it was a “serious accusation” claiming that the officials “did not hide any piece of information ever”.

Telegraf, 21 May 2020

“The unofficial stories from various parts of Serbia that there had been more deaths than we had reported is a grave accusation. Let me tell you why. Because we did not hide any information, not only when the first case was registered but also before that. How many people we tested, if it had been confirmed or not. Furthermore, I as the Prime Minister, entire Government, and Crisis Response Team, we receive the data directly from hospitals. Therefore, those making accusations of such discrepancy, will be making those accusations directly against medical staff since we receive such data directly from them. I really would not go that far to dare accusing medical staff, our doctors, our nurses, that they had concealed how many people died from COVID-19, as I think that is really a grave accusation and I would not go that far.”

However, a month later, based on the inspection of data from official government IT system for COVID-19, BIRN reported that 632 patients died due to coronavirus from 19 March until 1 June in Serbia, which is 388 more than the officially announced number for the referred period, which was 244. According to BIRN information, the number of infected persons in the final days of the last week was between 300 and 340 a day, which is far more than the official number of 97 new cases at that moment., 22 June 2020

“Information on the number of infected could be found in the table ‘Report for Government’, which was generated based on the referred IT system. Table has three types of information – a number of tested and positive in the last 24 hours, number of deceased approved by the Ministry of Health, and bed occupancy rates per hospital.”

The data from IT system that BIRN was able to inspect include registry number of a patient, date of birth, as well as columns referring to tests results, date of final positive test, date of death and name of the hospital, and/or clinical centre where the patient had died. The journalists did not have access to personal data of these patients., 22 June 2020

“In the last column ‘Confirmed by Ministry of Health’ next to data for fifty patients it is written ‘Yes’. BIRN phoned Minister of Health Zlatibor Loncar several times, but he had neither picked up the phone nor answered our text message where we had demanded for him to explain the meaning of the column in the referred table. BIRN did a detailed analysis of the data from the IT system, by selecting persons who had deceased with positive test results. The data includes a total of 1081 deceased person whose test results are categorised as the following statuses: positive for coronavirus (632), negative (355), unknown (83), sample not found (8), unspecified (2), and in one case the column was blank.”

Immunologist and a member of Crisis Response Team Srdja Jankovic explained for portal that “not every deceased person positive for COVID-19 had died from it”., 22 June 2020

“As said more than once, not every deceased person positive for COVID-19 died from it. Death due to COVID-19 means that clinical manifestations or complications due to coronavirus infection had to great extent or decisively contributed to death. Persons who died from their primary disease, regardless of virus infection, are not considered COVID-19 related deaths. In other words, in addition to being positive for COVID-19, the person’s course of the disease is required to correspond to COVID-19, and then this person’s death is considered as COVID-19 related”, said Jankovic.

Furthermore, a member of Crisis Response Team, Darija Kisic Tepavcevic, emphasised that Serbia adhered to the instructions of World Health Organisation on reporting deaths due to coronavirus, which indicate that deaths due to this disease are such deaths where persons had been suspected of the presence of virus, and had died with specific disease manifestations such as pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

As reported by “Danas”, it shall mean that patients who did not have a positive test for COVID-19 could become a part of the deceased statistics, as well as persons who had comorbid conditions such as diabetes, but had died from pneumonia or ARDS.

Danas, 25 June 2020

“However, WHO does not emphasise that it is necessary for a person to be positive for coronavirus to become a part of the official deceased statistics. Nevertheless, it says that patients who had been suspected of COVID-19 should be registered as deaths due to coronavirus if they had died with serious disease manifestations associated with coronavirus (by distinguishing between those who had positive test and those who were only suspected of coronavirus). At the same time, WHO mentions that persons with chronical diseases such as diabetes who had been suspected of coronavirus and who had died of pneumonia, ARDS and similar, are also registered as coronavirus deaths. Though, in these cases the chronical disease is referred to as a contributing factor of death. However, for persons who were suspected of COVID-19, but had died, for example, in a car crash or due to heart attack, under WHO instructions are not registered as coronavirus related deaths. However, since it is possible that in those cases COVID-19 had impact on the deathly outcome, it is referred to as the contributing cause of death.”

Though, the officials do not say if during the pandemic Serbia had changed the methods of calculating the number of infected and deceased from coronavirus or the citizens were given information contrary to those received from hospitals from the beginning. 

Taking into consideration that BIRN investigation has demonstrated that the official data on the number of coronavirus diseases were different to those presented to the public every day, Prime Minister Brnabic statement that “we did not hide any piece of information ever”, gets the rating – false.