Claims that UK government data disproves the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic are false.
Such a claim was made in a video seen by thousands of Facebook users (here , here , here) featuring a narrator, Vernon Coleman, who Reuters has previously fact-checked for spreading COVID-19 misinformation (here). Reuters has also debunked other attempts to disprove the pandemic’s existence (here).
In the video, published on April 19, the presenter draws upon government data to provide what he says is “final, irrefutable proof that the COVID-19 pandemic never existed”. After making his calculations, he says: “There was never a pandemic, and the problem for the fact-checkers around the world is that all the facts I have quoted come from the UK government.”
His workings, he explains, are based on the government figure that 127,000 people across the UK have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test (here , updated April 14). He claims this number covers the two winters of 2019-20 and 2020-21, so halves it to get what he believes represents the number of COVID-19 deaths during each of the two winter seasons: 63,500.
This calculation is misleading because the 127,000 figure covers deaths recorded since the pandemic began in March 2020, not just over a seasonal period. Moreover, data from the pandemic does not neatly fit into two winter seasons. The 2019-2020 winter was between October 2019 and May 2020, (here, page 7), but the government only started recording deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test on March 2, 2020 (here).
The narrator goes on to claim that 23% of people died with, not of, the coronavirus. He calculates 23% of 63,500 and subtracts this to reach 48,895, which he claims is the real total of COVID-19 deaths for each of the winter seasons.
This percentage likely comes from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) weekly bulletin for April 2, 2021, which stated that 77% of the 400 deaths involving COVID-19 that week recorded the disease as the underlying cause of death, meaning 23% died with other conditions alongside catching the coronavirus (here).
This figure is just from one week, however, and does not represent the whole pandemic. An FOI response from the ONS on April 8 showed that the number of COVID-19 deaths involving other conditions could be as high as 52.7% (here and here).
However, the percentage of deaths involving COVID-19 is not crucial to debunking the presenter’s argument. By disregarding people that died with the coronavirus, he is implying COVID-19 deaths involving other conditions are less relevant. This is inaccurate and has been debunked by Reuters here , here and here .
Having used these problematic calculations to reduce the government’s total of COVID-19 deaths from 127,000 to 48,895, the individual compares this figure with excess deaths during the 2017-2018 winter in England and Wales. Again, this comparison is flawed because the COVID-19 data cannot be neatly split into two winter seasons.
ONS figures show there were 50,100 excess deaths in the winter of 2017-2018, which the statistician notes were due to flu and chilly temperatures (bit.ly/3aKtJZ9). The presenter declares this proves there is no pandemic, because 50,100 excess winter deaths is more than 48,895 COVID-19 deaths. However, as explained above, this is not a useful comparison, and the presenter has inaccurately diminished the coronavirus deaths.
Real ONS analysis of excess winter deaths for 2019-20 states that COVID-19 made the process of calculating and comparing the figures more difficult. Experts estimating excess winter mortality normally compare deaths in the winter with deaths during the rest of the year, resting on the assumption that there are less deaths in spring and summer.
However, the scale of COVID-19 deaths in non-winter months meant the summer saw lots more deaths than usual. This “disturbed” the data by making a comparison of the winter and summer months not particularly meaningful. For example, excess winter deaths including COVID-19 for 2019-20 were estimated at 8,700. This low number does not mean there were few winter deaths, but lots of deaths in summer.
The ONS created a separate data set excluding COVID-19 to mitigate this problem, estimating 28,300 excess winter deaths that were mostly due to respiratory diseases. This figure is less than the 2017-18 winter period, but cannot be used to say the pandemic doesn’t exist because it doesn’t include COVID-19 deaths.
Ultimately, this data is not a useful way to measure the pandemic and there is an abundance of reliable data showing that COVID-19 has caused increased mortality.
An ONS graph clearly shows that deaths were well above the five-year average during the first wave, between March and May 2020, and the second, between November 2020 and February 2021 (here). The King’s Fund, an independent charity, calculated that the first wave caused 25% more deaths than the five-year average for the same period, with the second wave causing 14% more deaths than in previous years (here).
Statisticians from Imperial College London also told Reuters in an email that the number of COVID-19 deaths in 2020 and 2021 were much higher than deaths from respiratory diseases in the years between 2020 and 2017. Globally, the World Health Organisation has reported over three million COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began (covid19.who.int/).
False. This video manipulates official data to deny that COVID-19 caused increased mortality. In fact, ONS figures demonstrate that deaths during the pandemic’s peak were well above the five-year average.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.