Covid-19 survival rate is not 99.991% for under 60s

11 February 2021
What was claimed

According to NHS data, as of 21st January there have been 4,717 Covid-19 deaths of people between the ages of 0-59 in the UK.

Our verdict

This is not true. The NHS data used in this video is just for England, not the whole UK, and only includes hospital deaths after a positive test.

What was claimed

4,717 Covid-19 deaths out of the 0-59 year-old UK population means a 0.009% fatality rate.

Our verdict

This is wrong on a few levels. The death data is for England alone, and only for those dying in hospital after a positive test, and this calculation only works if every single person aged 0-59 has been infected with Covid.

What was claimed

This means in the UK the Covid-19 survival rate for 0-59 year olds is 99.991%.

Our verdict

It doesn’t mean this. The data used only talks about England, and we can’t know for sure how many 0-59 year olds in England have had and recovered from Covid-19.

A video shared over 1,000 times on Facebook uses NHS England data to incorrectly claim that the Covid-19 survival rate for under-60s in the UK is 99.991%. This is wrong in a number of ways. 

In particular, it calculates the survival rate based on the proportion of all under-60s who have died with Covid—not just those who caught it. This makes it seem like many people have “survived”, despite never being infected in the first place.

The video claims that, according to figures from the NHS, there have been 4,717 Covid-19 deaths of people aged between 0 and 59 in the UK up to 21 January. The figures are correct and cover the period from the start of the pandemic to 20 January, but it is wrong to say this data covers the whole of the UK. These statistics are for England only. They also only show the number of deaths in hospitals—meaning these numbers do not include people who died at home or in care homes or hospices.

There is currently no single, recent source that shows all UK Covid-19 deaths broken down by age. However, we know that in England and Wales alone over 7,000 people under 60 have died with Covid-19 mentioned on their death certificate since the start of the pandemic.

The video claims the UK population of under 60s is around 50.6 million people, which is broadly accurate. 

However, the survival rate figure given in the post is still incorrect. We can’t simply calculate the survival rate of Covid-19 by working out what percentage of the total population has died (and particularly not by using figures that only show deaths in hospitals in England). It would be wrong to assume that every single person under the age of 60 has contracted the virus, as the Facebook video does with its calculations.

Indeed, it is easy to disprove the video just by looking at what its numbers mean. If  nine in 100,000 people under 60 died when they caught Covid (which a 99.991% survival rate would mean), and even if there had been only 4,717 of these deaths in the UK, then that would mean that 52.4 million under-60s had caught it—which is more than the entire under-60 population for the UK. (In reality, with more than 7,000 such deaths, the survival rate is wrong by an even wider margin.)  

A survival rate is based on how many people survive the infection. It is incredibly difficult to calculate an accurate survival rate for Covid-19, because we don’t know how many people have been infected. Even calculating a rate based on the number of positive tests would not be complete, as we know that many people who get Covid-19 can be asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms and so may not get tested, while others may have contracted the virus at the start of the pandemic when testing was less frequent. 

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