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Fact check: Death registrations for 2020 in England and Wales are currently above the five-year average for the year to date

A video falsely claiming there is no evidence of a pandemic has been viewed thousands of times on Facebook. The 26-minute clip, which was filmed live on Nov. 17, 2020, shows a man walking round a coronavirus testing site in Oldham, a town in the Greater Manchester area of Britain, citing statistics that allegedly prove the pandemic isn’t real.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

In a conversation with workers at the testing site, the man says: “Honestly, I wouldn’t be doing this if there was a genuine situation. I would want to help if I saw sick people and there was a real disaster going on, but there is not, it’s made up” (here, skip to 19:40).

The video has received 34,000 views and 1,000 shares. Various claims and opinions are expressed by the speaker, but this article will only address two of the primary claims.

Claim one: mortality rates

The individual outlines various calculations that supposedly show deaths in 2020 are not higher than the average. This data is problematic.

The speaker claims in the video that: “Mortality in the UK is the same as in 2010, every year the same number of people die.” (skip to 14:19)

In the commentary and in comments under the video, the author presents his sources for this claim.

He writes in a comment that deaths reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) stood at 494,975 for the week ending 23 October 2020. This dataset has now been updated and records a total death figure of 529,901 for deaths registered in England and Wales from 28 Dec. 2019 to 13 Nov. 2020 (here). The ONS notes that these figures are death registrations, and that there may be a delay in the date a death occurred and when it was registered.

The video author goes on to state in the comments that the mortality rate in the UK is at 0.929%, pointing to data from statistics website Statista (here). Next he calculates 0.929% out of 67,886,011 population - "that would give us estimate 630k deaths this year". The figure of 67,886,011 is consistent with a UN estimate for the UK's population in 2020 (population.un.org/).

He writes: "494,975 deaths of 630k = 78.56% of the death estimate. We are at normal deaths numbers like every single year since 2010." This conclusion is not correct, because the 494,975 deaths figure relates to ONS data from England and Wales, while the population figure relates to the whole of the UK (including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). ONS data shows the population of England and Wales combined in 2019 was 59,439,840 (here).

More importantly, there is clear evidence showing that deaths this year are higher than normal.

The number of deaths registered in the UK by the ONS in the week ending 13 November 2020 (week 46) was 2,216 deaths higher than the five-year average (see final bullet point here).

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), the ONS says: “Looking at the year-to-date (using the most up-to-date data we have available), the number of deaths up to 13 November 2020 was 529,901, which is 60,456 more than the five-year average”.

Reuters has previously debunked claims that figures show there is no pandemic (here and here).

Claim two: increased testing

The speaker also claims that the British government is “making things up”, including data and statistics. “Cases went up because tests went up,” he says (skip to 18:19).

The suggestion that the virus will stop spreading if testing is limited is false.

In the initial stages of the outbreak in the UK, testing was limited to people exhibiting a narrow range of symptoms (here ). Even with a restricted level of testing, and a likely under-reporting of total case numbers, the impact caused by the virus became evident through rising hospital admissions and deaths.

Government figures show there were 11,896 tests processed in the UK on April 1, early in the national lockdown. That compares to the 227,465 tests that were processed on September 10 (here).

The lower level of testing at the start of the pandemic did not make the disease disappear.

Testing also allows for the operation of contact-tracing programmes that help curb the spread of the disease. The UK’s ‘NHS Test and Trace’ scheme (here ) aims to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by notifying close contacts of people who have tested positive for the virus and telling them to self-isolate.

Reuters has debunked similar false claims about COVID-19 testing here, here and here .

VERDICT

False. The figures cited in this video do not illustrate that mortality rates are at normal levels. The total number of deaths for 2020 is not yet known, but the number of deaths registered by Nov. 13 was higher than the five-year average in the UK. It is not correct to say that cases only increased because testing increased. Rather, testing aims to curb the disease by allowing contact-tracing.

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

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