No, we are not on track for a normal number of deaths this year

29 October 2020
What was claimed

The number of UK deaths was 610,000 in 2000, 612,000 in 2003, 552,000 in 2011, 603,000 in 2015 and 616,000 in 2018.

Our verdict

Correct. These are the numbers of deaths registered in the UK for each year.

What was claimed

The number of deaths so far this year in the UK (up to week 39) has been 454,000.

Our verdict

Incorrect. This is the figure for England and Wales only. For the UK as a whole it is 513,987.

What was claimed

We are on course to have a death toll this year in line with recent years.

Our verdict

Incorrect. Unless deaths decline sharply, the UK death toll is likely to be its highest in decades.

A Facebook post shares a Twitter screenshot which claims to show the UK death toll in selected years. It suggests that the 2020 death toll will be comparable to previous years based on the number of deaths so far this year.

This figure is wrong, because it fails to count deaths from two of the four nations in the UK. While it’s not possible to predict death figures with any certainty, doing a similar calculation with the correct figures would suggest a much higher death toll.

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Why the calculation is wrong

The death figures presented for years between 2000 and 2018 are correct for the number of deaths registered in the UK each year (technically the figure for 2000 would round to 611,000 not 610,000 as shown).

Due to delays in registering some deaths, the number of deaths that actually occurred in each year will be slightly different. 

The post then claims that there have been 454,000 deaths up until the week of 25 September, and if you add on the number of deaths in the first 13 weeks of 2020 to “predict the whole year” you get to a total of 603,000, which is not dissimilar to the death toll in previous years.

However, the figure presented for 2020 so far only covers England and Wales, not the whole of the UK, which means that the comparison is flawed. If Scotland and Northern Ireland are included, using a similar method, the death toll this year would be considerably above recent years.

Up to the week of 25 September, there have been 453,803 death registrations in England and Wales, 47,427 in Scotland, and 12,429 in Northern Ireland, for a total of 513,659.

If you were to add on the number of deaths seen in England and Wales (134,763), Scotland (15,014) and Northern Ireland (4,388) from around 25 September 2019 to the end of 2019, then you would get a total of 667,824 deaths this year. 

That would be the highest annual death toll in the UK since 1985.

Correction 29 October 2020

We corrected a production error that swapped the position of the third claim and our verdict. (The text remains unchanged.)

Correction 5 November 2020

Originally this article said that if you were to model the UK's death toll assuming the rest of the year is the same as an average year, the total would be higher than any year since 1979. It should have actually read since 1985.

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