Far more people have died of Covid-19 in the UK than in Japan

19 May 2020
What was claimed

Far more people have died of Covid-19 in the UK than in Japan

Our verdict

This is correct. At the time this post appeared there had been 31,855 Covid-19 deaths reported in the UK, compared with 628 in Japan.

What was claimed

Japan has a larger and older population, and a higher population density, than the UK.

Our verdict

These are all correct.

A Facebook post shared over 1,400 times compares the impact of Covid-19 on the UK and Japan

The post includes a screenshot of a tweet from Channel 4 journalist Ciaran Jenkins. It quotes figures which were accurate when the tweet was sent and when the Facebook post was made, on the evening of 10 May. The Facebook post then concludes that there have been “tens of thousands of avoidable deaths” in the UK. We do not yet know why so many more people have died from Covid-19 in the UK, or exactly how this could have been avoided.

The post says the Japanese population is 126 million, and the UK population is 66 million. These figures are broadly correct

It then gives a “COVID19 deaths” figure for Japan of 624, and for the UK of 31,855. If we refer to each country’s official rapid-reporting death totals, which may not be exactly comparable, then these are correct too. According to the European Centre for Disease Control, by 11 May, there had been 628 Covid-19 deaths in Japan, and 31,855 in the UK. (The latest figures at the time of writing are 763 and 34,796.) 

Text accompanying the screenshot in the post says, “Japan has the oldest population in the world. The UK is 24th. Japan also has a higher population density than the UK.” These claims are essentially correct.

There are different ways to measure the overall age of a country’s population, but Japan’s is certainly among the oldest in the world. Following his original tweet, Mr Jenkins added a screenshot from the Population Reference Bureau. This shows Japan having the highest proportion of over-65s in its population compared to other countries, and the UK the 24th highest.

Data from the United Nations also shows Japan with the highest average age of any country on its list. The UK is 44th on the same list.

According to the World Bank, Japan’s population density was 347 people per square kilometre in 2018, which is higher than the UK’s at 275. The UN gives the same figure for Japan in 2020, but 281 for the UK. 

Were the UK’s Covid-19 deaths avoidable?

Based on the facts it mentions, the Facebook post concludes there were: “Tens of thousands of avoidable deaths.” 

As we have written before, measuring the death toll from Covid-19 is a complex process, which is done differently in different places. It will therefore take months at least to make accurate comparisons between countries.

The evidence available at the time of writing suggests that the outbreak in the UK has been much worse than in Japan so far. There is not enough evidence yet to know exactly why this happened, or the extent to which it could have been avoided.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as true because the figures about the two countries’ populations and their number of Covid-19 deaths are correct.

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