Flu and Covid-19 statistics are not being added together

12 October 2020
What was claimed

Covid-19 and influenza statistics are being combined to make the numbers look worse.

Our verdict

This is not true. Statistics about the two diseases are being published separately in the same document. This has no effect on the numbers.

“Hey, why not combine Covid *and flu* statistics together to make the Covid numbers look worse than they really are! This is not a joke. This is what Public Health England is doing.”

Julia Hartley-Brewer, 11 October 2020

The journalist and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer has claimed that Public Health England (PHE) is now combining Covid-19 and influenza (or “flu”) statistics, in order to “make the Covid numbers look worse than they really are”.

This has been widely suggested on Facebook, and we’ve seen posts and messages making similar claims on WhatsApp and on YouTube.

It is not true.

Since 8 October, PHE has begun to publish Covid-19 and influenza statistics separately but in the same document.

This does not combine the influenza and Covid-19 statistics themselves, or change the numbers about either disease in any way.

The new report does contain combined data on the number of “acute respiratory infection incidents” (two or more lab confirmed cases or a suspected outbreak) reported by PHE Health Protection Teams, just as previous reports did before. These are presented as a total figure, before being broken down to show the figure for Covid-19 specifically.

The false claim that Covid-19 and flu statistics are being misleadingly combined seems to come from a misunderstanding of the previous week’s Covid-19 report, which said, “This will be the last COVID-19 surveillance report, as of 8 October 2020, the information in this report will be published in a combined Weekly flu and COVID-19 Surveillance Report on GOV.UK.”

PHE has published regular flu reports for a number of years, weekly during the flu season, and fortnightly during the warmer months.

Since this article was published, Ms Hartley-Brewer has deleted the tweet and corrected the record.

Update 13 October 2020

This article was updated to show that Ms Hartley-Brewer has corrected the record.

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