Higher number of reported Covid-19 deaths down to backlog

3 February 2022
What was claimed

There was a large rise in the number of Covid deaths on 2 February 2022.

Our verdict

A large number of deaths were reported on this day, because of a delay in the system. At the beginning of February 2022, the number of deaths happening each day was falling.

Covid deaths climb to 534 in deadliest daily figure in 11 months

534 deaths recorded over 24 hours in highest rise for 11 months

UK Covid deaths hit 11-month record high

Headlines in the Evening Standard and the Mirror reported a “rise” or a “climb” in the number of daily Covid-19 deaths, when 534 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported on 2 February 2022. The Sun also called it a “record” figure, and several outlets said it was the highest for nearly a year. It was also described on Facebook on Wednesday as the number of deaths occuring “in the last 24 hours”.

But without context this is a very misleading way to describe what the figure means.

While it is true that 534 deaths were reported in the UK on 2 February, this unusually high number was the result of a delay in the system earlier in the week, which caused a backlog in the data.

Some of the reports included this information later in the article, but not in headlines at the top of the page.

The number of Covid deaths actually happening as of the end of January 2022 was about 243 per day, and falling.

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Why the death figures jump around

When somebody dies following a positive Covid test, it takes time for their details to be processed by the system.

This means that the total announced each day is not the number of Covid deaths that happened in the previous 24 hours, or in any 24-hour period—it is the number that have most recently been made ready to announce. Many of these deaths involve people who died several days or even weeks before.

Typically, the number of deaths announced is low on Sundays and Mondays, as the recording process happens more slowly over the weekend. This creates a backlog, which often results in a very high number of reported deaths on Tuesdays. We’ve written about this before.

As a result, if you look at Covid deaths by the date on which they were reported, you see a jagged pattern of rises and falls. These large rises and falls may make dramatic headlines, but they don’t reflect what’s happening in the real world.

If you look at deaths by the date on which they actually happened, you see a much smoother pattern, as the number changes gradually over time. (Although the last few days can’t be considered complete, because not all of the most recent deaths will have been reported yet.)

What happened on 2 February?

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which reports the daily death figures, said on 2 February: “Due to the change in our reporting mechanisms to count reinfections, there have been some delays in the reporting of daily deaths. Today’s data includes a backlog of recent deaths and therefore today’s reported deaths are higher than would normally be the case.”

As a result, if you look at the deaths by reporting date, 1 February did not show the usual high number for a Tuesday.

Instead, much of the weekend backlog that would normally have been reported then was delayed, so 2 February saw an unusually high number of reported deaths as a result.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted the Sun, the Mirror and the Evening Standard to request corrections regarding these claims.

The Mirror amended its article.

The Sun did not take any action.

The Evening Standard did not respond.

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