Many more than 3,000 people have died of Covid-19

22 February 2021
What was claimed

Only 3,000 people have died of Covid-19 in England.

Our verdict

This is not true. Covid was the underlying cause of over 71,000 deaths in England in 2020 alone.

Readers have asked us about a widely shared blog which falsely claims that “only 3,000 people have died of Covid-19”. This is based on a misreading of statistics from NHS England.

The most recent data available, up to 5 February, shows that 107,044 people have so far died of Covid in England and Wales.

This means that the disease was the underlying cause of each individual death, in the opinion of a doctor. In 2020, 71,110 deaths with Covid as the underlying cause were recorded in England alone.

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What did the blog say?

The blog, published on a site called The Daily Expose, looked at NHS data on deaths following a positive Covid test in English hospitals up to 3 February 2021.

This records 74,249 deaths. It also records that 71,138 of these people had at least one “pre-existing condition”. These include diabetes, dementia, kidney disease, asthma and many other things.

The blog wrongly concludes that these conditions were therefore the cause of all these deaths—leaving just 3,111 deaths “that may actually be due to Covid-19”.

This is a mistake, because pre-existing conditions are not always the cause of someone’s death. Nor were all these people “already knocking on deaths door”, as the blog claims.

Government research suggests that each additional death during the first wave of the pandemic meant that the person dying lost, on average, about 10.5 years of life.

Died of, or died with?

When someone dies after a positive Covid test, the disease itself is usually the underlying cause.

We know this, because a doctor must describe the causes of someone’s death when they complete a death certificate. They are allowed to mention several conditions, but only one can be listed as the “underlying cause”—meaning it was “the disease or injury which initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death”.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes data for England and Wales each week, showing the number of times that “novel coronavirus (COVID-19)” has been mentioned on a death certificate, along with the number of times that it was listed as the underlying cause.

Covid was mentioned on 118,307 death certificates in England and Wales up to 5 February 2021, and it was the underlying cause on 107,044 of them.

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