The UK has recorded fewer Covid deaths in the past 40 days combined than just one day of cancer deaths.
Prominent tweeter and communications consultant James Melville tweeted on 18 July that over the past 40 days fewer people had died from Covid-19 than just one day of cancer deaths.
While it’s true that cancer is killing more people currently than Covid, this precise claim is not accurate.
Mr Melville told Full Fact he reached these figures by comparing government statistics for deaths recorded within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 result, and data from Cancer Research that showed an average of 450 people a day died from cancer between 2016 and 2018.
However, this is less than the combined number of Covid-19 deaths recorded in the 40 days up to Mr Melville’s tweet on 18 July.
Statistics available when Mr Melville tweeted showed that 854 people died within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 result between 9 June and 18 July.
This figure has since been updated, increasing to 988 people.
While Mr Melville chose to use data for deaths within 28 days of a positive test, a more accurate measure is the number of death certificates where Covid-19 is listed as a cause of death. This data is less current (because of the time needed to complete a doctor or coroner’s report) but because it involves more thorough investigation to establish the cause of death as Covid-19 it is more reliable.
The difference between the date of death and publication of this data is around 23 days, so if Mr Melville had read it on 18 July the earliest data available to him would probably have been from around 25 June.
With that in mind, in the 40 days to 25 June 524 peoples’ death certificates mentioned Covid-19. This is still higher than the average number of daily cancer deaths. Mr Melville has made similar claims in the past, occasionally changing time frames or including other types of deaths that he compares Covid deaths with.
More recent cancer mortality figures are available from Nomis, the official labour market statistics service, but only for England and Wales. These show 147,193 people died in 2020 from cancer, around 403 people a day.
It’s worth noting that, while figures for 2021 aren’t yet available, experts believe cancer deaths may increase. Recent reports claim that some cancer patients are on some of the longest NHS waiting lists while more than 300,000 people are said to have missed cancer check-ups since the start of the pandemic.
Further, as has been pointed out by others, such comparisons should be treated with caution as Covid-19 is an infectious disease while cancer is not. The exceptional efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19, such as national lockdowns, have had a significant effect on cases and death rates.