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Fact check: Figures do not support claim that COVID-19 has had no impact on UK mortality rates

A Facebook post has been shared on social media that contains misleading statistics about the UK’s death toll for 2020 and other recent years.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The post (here) claims that the UK’s death rate decreased yearly between 2015 and 2020, then leaves a rhetorical question: “Where’s the pandemic?”.

The author of the post says it uses figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and data company Statista, but does not include any clear references.

While the statistics for 2018 and 2019 match those produced by the ONS for England and Wales (here), the 2017 figure inflates the ONS statistic from 533,000 to 553,000 (here) .

The number of deaths in 2015 and 2016 look higher because they are sourced from Statista, which includes data from all of the UK, not just England and Wales (here) .

The official ONS figures for death rates in England and Wales are 529,655 in 2015 (here) and 525,048 in 2016 (here) .

Using these figures, there is not a simple trend of declining overall death numbers in England and Wales between 2015 and 2019. Statista’s figures for all of the UK differ slightly, showing an increase in the annual number of deaths from 2011 to 2018 (here).

The ONS report does show, however, that in England and Wales the age-standardised mortality rates did fall between 2015 and 2019. According to the ONS, “age-standardised mortality rates are a better measure of mortality than the number of deaths, as they account for the population size and age structure”( here) .

The social media post goes on to suggest that the overall number of deaths in 2020 will be the same as 2019, implying that the pandemic has not led to increased mortality in the UK.

There is no way at this stage to accurately pinpoint the total number of deaths for 2020.

While the death rate was lower in England and Wales during certain months this year when COVID-19 infection rates were low, for instance in August (here), ONS analysis shows that deaths registered by Sep. 5th, 2020 were above the five-year average in England and Wales (here ) .

The ONS report also says that age-standardised mortality rates in England, between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, are statistically significantly higher than all years since 2009. It says that for Wales, the year-to-date age-standardised mortality rate for 2020 was significantly higher than the first eight months of 2019 (a particularly low year), but not significantly different from 2018.

VERDICT

Partly false. The yearly death figures cited in this post are not directly comparable and do not illustrate the downward trend described. The total number of deaths for 2020 is not yet known. In the year to Sep 5, the number of deaths registered was above the five-year average in England and Wales.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .

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