We don’t know the true Covid-19 survival rate yet

19th May 2020

Claim

The survival rate for Covid-19 is 98.54% in the UK.

Conclusion

We don’t know what the survival rate is yet, as we don’t know how many people have had the disease. This figure comes from a claim about the US which is a slight over-estimate based on available figures.

We’ve seen a number of Facebook posts claiming that the “current survival rate” for Covid-19 is 98.54% in the UK. These posts have been shared over 14,000 times.

This is wrong. The figure seems to come from a Facebook post that made the same claim about the US survival rate back in April. 

But we don’t yet know the true survival rate there or in the UK, as we don’t have a good idea of how many people have had Covid-19. There’s a lot we don’t know about the exact death toll either, which we’ve written more about here.

Fact checkers in the US have reported on the 98.54% claim. It is actually an over-estimate of how many people have had a confirmed case of Covid-19 and have not died at this time. But describing that as the “survival rate” has problems.

We can calculate this by looking at the case fatality rate, which is the percentage of deaths in patients who had the disease out of the number of confirmed cases. In the US, it’s currently at roughly 6%, meaning around 94% of those who’ve had confirmed cases so far have not died. As other fact checkers have pointed out, although a rate of survival around 95% sounds high, this would still make Covid-19 more lethal than seasonal flu.

In the UK, at the time of writing, there have been 246,406 confirmed cases of Covid-19. There have been 34,796 Covid-19 associated deaths, meaning people who died having had a positive test result for Covid-19. From this, the case fatality rate in the UK is around 14%, meaning 86% have “survived”. This shouldn’t be directly compared with the figure for the US above, due to major differences between how widespread testing is.

But this figure can’t be considered a ‘survival rate’ as we don’t know how many of those who have tested positive have fully recovered, how many are still ill, and how many might still die in the future.

The “true” survival rate at the moment will be higher than any figure derived from the case fatality rate, as this is based on cases confirmed by testing, and not everyone who has had the virus will have been tested.