Fact check: The novel coronavirus outbreak was described as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in March 2020

A video featuring a university professor includes at least two misleading claims relating to the nature and severity of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Prof. Dr Dolores Cahill ( shared a video of herself speaking to her Facebook page on Nov. 22, 2020 in which she said that there was no pandemic, and that the disease has the same death rate as influenza (here).

In the clip, taken from a longer video showing various speakers, she expresses frustration over the removal of videos featuring the speakers from social media platforms. She goes on to say: “We are putting our careers and our reputations and our future earning capacity and the wellness of our families on the line so that ordinary citizens and people of the world will be aware that there is no pandemic […] We are saying the truth; coronavirus has the same death as the normal influenza. It could be less if the true information came out, there is prevention and treatment.”

This statement was made amid various other claims and expressions of opinion, but this check will examine the primary claims that “there is no pandemic” and that COVID-19 and influenza have the same rates of death.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) described the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic (defined here) on Mar. 11, 2020 (here, here , here). The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, was identified by Chinese scientists on Jan. 7 after an unexplained cluster of pneumonia cases were reported in Wuhan (here). By the time the WHO described the outbreak as a pandemic, there had been 118,000 cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the virus – confirmed across 114 countries. A total 4,291 people had died. By Nov. 26, 2020 the disease had spread even further with more than 60 million confirmed infections across 213 countries or territories. More than 1.4 million people had died.

Current data also suggests that COVID-19 is deadlier than the flu – although scientists are still trying to work out the disease’s exact mortality rate (here, here).

In October, the Office for National Statistics released data that showed there had been more than three times as many deaths to COVID-19 between January and August in England and Wales than there had been to pneumonia and influenza combined (here). Analysis of age-standardised and age-specific mortality rates for COVID-19 were also higher during the same period than across pneumonia and influenza’s five-year average.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated there were around 22,000 flu deaths in the 2019/20 flu season in the US (here). For the 2018/19 season this number was 34,200 and for the 2017-18 season it was 61,000. In 2020, the country recorded 262,000 deaths to COVID-19 in the first 11 months of the year (here).

When considering a disease’s mortality rate, there are also other things to consider such as the existence of a vaccine, how testing is carried out, the way deaths are counted and the age and pre-existing conditions of a patient (here). Despite this, however, current data appears to show COVID-19 is deadlier than seasonal influenza.


False. A pandemic is defined as a worldwide spread of a new disease. COVID-19 fits this definition and has been described as a pandemic by the WHO. Current data suggests COVID-19 has a higher mortality rate than the flu.

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