The government updated total Covid-19 death data with April and May deaths confirmed by non-NHS labs

9th Jun 2020

Claim

Matt Hancock said the death toll rose by 111 in one day, the lowest since lockdown began, but it actually rose by 556.

Conclusion

The death toll was 111 on 1 June, but an extra 445 deaths were added to the cumulative death toll between 31 May and 1 June because of previously unreported deaths in England from April and May.

Posts on Twitter and Facebook have claimed that although Matt Hancock said at a government briefing on 1 June that there had been 111 deaths since the day before, the official report on total Covid-19 deaths actually rose by 556 between 31 May and 1 June.

It’s correct that there were 111 deaths in the last day as of 1 June, but the total deaths figure was also updated to include 445 more lab-confirmed Covid-19 tests from May that hadn’t been included yet.

What is the official death toll?

Matt Hancock did say on 1 June that 111 people had died the day before having had a Covid-19 positive test. That’s correct for the UK, according to data from the Department of Health and Social Care. He was also correct to say that is the lowest since lockdown began on 24 March.

Technically this is the number of deaths that were reported in the 24 hours to 5pm on 31 May. 

Mr Hancock also said 39,045 people had died overall, and his presentation slides at the time showed the same. But as the post we’re checking claims, in the briefing the day before, the cumulative total was reported at the time as 38,489. The difference between these figures is 556, and not 111.

The reason for this discrepancy is that the total figure was updated between these two briefings, to include additional deaths from late April and May.

445 lab-confirmed Covid-19 case deaths were added to the total by 1 June

In the notes section of its coronavirus cases guidance, the government said: “The cumulative totals for deaths have been revised to include an additional 445 deaths.

“These additional deaths are from the period 26 April to 31 May. The daily total today is unaffected. 

“Our published daily series has been revised to show when these deaths were reported.”

In the small print in the data release for the 1 June press briefing, it says that the additional 445 deaths were just in England, and from the period 24 April to 31 May. We checked with the Department for Health and Social Care, and it said that the small print should have said 26 April to 31 May.

It goes on to say: 

“Figures still relate to those who have died, in any setting, having had a positive lab confirmed test. As the testing programme expands, work has been conducted to integrate individual level data on laboratory confirmed cases for Pillar 2 (commercial partner testing) into the central repository of laboratory results that [Public Health England] uses. This additional data flow has enabled PHE to incorporate the matching of additional laboratory confirmed cases, from Pillar 2, into their process, thereby increasing the number of deaths for which a positive, confirmed test exists. PHE have revised their daily series to show when these deaths were reported.)” 

So the extra deaths come from fatal cases confirmed to have Covid-19 by labs not operated by the NHS or Public Health England. We asked the Department for Health and Social Care whether any more of this data will continue to be updated with backlogged fatalities and a spokesperson told us: "All deaths before 24 May 2020 of people who tested positive through 'pillar 2' testing are included in the reported daily figure for 24 May 2020.”