The Chilean government has said the death toll from the weekend earthquake remains unclear because of confusion over combining figures for confirmed deaths with those of missing people.

The government has formally identified 279 victims of the disaster, but stresses that many victims have yet to be identified.

Earlier on Thursday, the government had put the death toll at 802.

President Michelle Bachelet, touring the heart of the disaster zone for the first time, said the 802 figure includes some 200 people who should be listed as missing but were prematurely added to the death toll.

Chile's deputy interior minister Patricio Rosende, in an apparent attempt to clarify the figures, read out ‘the complete list of the 279 Chileans who have been fully identified by authorities,’ although he did not lower the official toll.

Ms Bachelet, who called for the national flag to be hung from each house during the mourning period, has predicted it could take up to four years for the South American nation to fully recover from its worst quake in half a century.

‘It is probable that the initial information has been imprecise about who or how many people died and how many were disappeared,’ said Patricio Rosende, undersecretary for the Interior Ministry..