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Fact check: Official figures do show that deaths this year are higher than normal

A Facebook post has presented misleading statistics about the death toll in England and Wales as evidence the coronavirus pandemic is not real.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The status was uploaded on Dec. 7 and claimed deaths in 2020 had only marginally increased compared to 2018. The post finished with the sentence: “So my question is this...... Where is the pandemic?” (here).

The statistics provided are partly incorrect and do not show the full picture: deaths this year are significantly higher than normal.

The post provides links to the source of the statistics and accurately claims that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in 2018 that the total death figure in England and Wales was 541,589. This was indeed a 1.6% increase from 2017 (here).

The post then claims: “So far in 2020 with around 3 weeks left there is a total death figure of 553,504. Evidence here here".

This link is for the website Statista, which uses ONS data to produce a graph of the weekly number of deaths in England and Wales from Jan. 3 to November 27. However, this graph shows weekly figures, so an annual total can only be gained by manually adding up each month. Reuters calculated the total on Dec. 9 and the figure came to 554,919, not 553,504 as the post claimed. The status was uploaded on Dec 7, so the post’s calculations may not have included the latest figures for week ending Nov. 27 uploaded on Dec. 8. This subtraction would take the total figure to 542, 463, which still differs from the figure given in the post.

More importantly, the Statista graph compares 2020 total deaths against the average and clearly shows an increase in deaths this year, particularly during March, April and May.

It is too early to accurately pinpoint the total number of deaths for 2020, but ONS figures registered by Nov. 7, 2020 show that England had 37,873 more deaths than the five-year average between 2015 and 2019 from January to October, with 1,419 more deaths than the average occurring in Wales (here, see part seven).

Age-standardised mortality rates (ASMR), calculated by ONS to provide clearer annual comparisons, show that England suffered in particular: its year-to-date ASMR for 2020 was 1,026.7 deaths per 100,000 people. ONS said this: “was statistically significantly higher than in all years between 2009 and 2019.” (here, see part six).

The latest weekly figures also show that 20.3% more deaths were registered in England and Wales compared with the five-year average for the week ending Nov. 27 (here).

Government figures using data from Dec. 8 show that 107,158 people in the UK tested positive for COVID-19 in the last seven days and 9,515 patients were admitted to hospital with the novel coronavirus (coronavirus.data.gov.uk/).

The analysis in the social media post does not prove the pandemic did not happen. England has recorded 55,155 deaths of people within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, while the number of deaths recorded with COVID-19 on the death certificate stands at 62,438 as of Dec. 11. In Wales those figures are 2,789 and 3,671 respectively.

VERDICT

Partly false. The figures cited in this post are partially inaccurate and do not demonstrate that the death toll is only marginally higher than 2018, nor that the pandemic is fake. Age-standardised mortality rates in England are “statistically significantly higher than in all years between 2009 and 2019”, according to ONS. Figures registered by Nov. 7 show there were 37,873 more deaths in England than the five-year average and 1,419 more deaths in Wales.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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