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Mexico alleges some doctors sold false death certificates

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APTOPIX Virus Outbreak Mexico - Iztapalapa Cemeteries

A crematorium worker prepares an oven for a COVID-19 victim at the Panteón de San Nicolás Tolentino cemetery in the Iztapalapa neighborhood of Mexico City, Thursday, June 4, 2020. Funeral parlors and crematoriums in Iztapalapa, a borough of 2 million people, say they have seen their work multiplied with the surging number of dead of COVID-19 in the capital's hardest-hit corner by the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico City officials said Friday that prosecutors are investigating several doctors who allegedly issued false death certificates for people who may have died of the coronavirus.

As deaths mount in Mexico, the need to quickly dispose of corpses has apparently led to a black market in death certificates. Mexico reported 625 newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths Friday, down from a peak of 1,092 on Wednesday and 816 on Thursday. The country now regularly adds more than 4,000 confirmed infections each day, and the cumulative case total stands at over 110,000, though officials acknowledge the real number is many times higher.

In describing the investigation, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum alleged the doctors “were involved in charging for these services,” despite the fact that death certificates are supposed to be free but the process to obtain them can sometimes be lengthy and bureaucratic.

“They sold these certificates when they should not have,” Sheinbaum said.

The scheme purportedly involved at least one city government employee and around 10 doctors, none of whom were city hospital employees, the mayor said.

There are also indications the doctors may have signed off causes of death other than COVID-19 for bodies they had never seen or examined, though the reasons were unclear, officials said.

But bodies had been piling up at hospitals in Mexico City as the pandemic worsened, and some relatives may have simply wanted to get their deceased family members released more quickly. In addition, bodies of people who died from COVID-19 have to be cremated or buried under stricter rules so some families may have paid for a false certificate to avoid that or the social stigma the virus carries.

No charges have been filed in the case.

It would not be the first scandal in Mexico involving businesses that have grown up around the pandemic.

In May, authorities found 3.5 tons of hospital waste illegally dumped in the woods on the outskirts of Mexico City. Officials also discovered 6,000 cubic yards (meters) of medical waste piled ceiling high at a warehouse in Puebla state.

Teetering piles of discarded coffins, meanwhile, have piled up outside Mexico City’s overworked crematoriums. Specialized waste incinerators are over-taxed by the flood of disposed protective equipment and infectious tissue being generated amid the pandemic.

Mexico is plagued by widespread problems with unregulated firms in both the waste disposal and funeral industries. According to the Senate, 60% of funeral agencies in Mexico are either unregistered or not fully registered.