By Ismael Lopez

MANAGUA (Reuters) – Nicaragua’s Health Ministry on Tuesday confirmed a total of 17 people had died in the country from the novel coronavirus, while there were 254 cases in the past week, compared with a previously reported total count of eight deaths and 25 cases.

The figures came after health workers cast doubt on official tallies of deaths and infections, noting that hospital wards were packed with patients suffering respiratory problems and that President Daniel Ortega’s government had not imposed strict measures to contain the outbreak.

Some epidemiologists have warned that the country has yet to see the worst of the pandemic because of the lack of government-ordered health measures, even as Ortega, a leftist former guerrilla leader, declared on Monday that the country had managed to “turn back” the pandemic.

“From May 12 to 19, we’ve treated and provided responsible, careful attention to 254 Nicaraguans with COVID-19, either confirmed or deemed probable by clinics,” Health Minister Martha Reyes said on national television.

She added that 199 people had recovered from the coronavirus, but she did not specify the time frame in which they were tested or had been sick.

Reyes said nine people died in the past week, adding to the eight deaths previously reported.

She also said the majority of people who tested positive for COVID-19 had other diseases, adding that authorities had been able to track the spread of the virus.

“Cases have been reported in outbreaks through clearly established contacts,” Reyes said.

On Monday, Ortega said that 309 people had died of pneumonia since January, 87 more people than in the same period last year, but that only some deaths were linked to the coronavirus.

(Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Peter Cooney)