Claims shared on social media, including by the former Brexit secretary David Davis, that the true number of deaths in England and Wales caused by Covid could be 17,000 have been debunked as “spurious” and factually incorrect by the Office for National Statistics.
The ONS responded after tweets by Davis suggesting that the figure 17,371 represented the death toll in people with no other underlying causes. Davis tweeted: “Up to the end of September 2021, the official count of the deaths of people with Covid was 137,133.” He added a freedom of information (FoI) request indicated only 17,371 of those deaths occurred in people with no underlying causes.
The FoI request to the ONS asked for all deaths in which Covid had been given as the sole cause on the death certificate, which is about a tenth of the generally stated toll.
James Tucker, an analyst at the ONS, said that to suggest the lower figure “represents the real extent of deaths from the virus is both factually incorrect and highly misleading”. It was common for Covid victims to have had a pre-existing health condition, but that did not mean they were at “imminent risk of dying from that condition, or even considered to have reduced life expectancy”, he wrote in a blog.
Diabetes was the most common pre-existing condition for those dying from Covid, but, he wrote, “this does not mean they were at risk of dying from it”.
There was a huge range of pre-existing conditions that could be listed on the death certificate, from heart disease and cancers to obesity and heart arrhythmias, he wrote.
The ONS distinguished “between deaths that are ‘due to Covid-19’ and those ‘involving Covid-19’ to provide the most comprehensive information on the impact of the disease on mortality”.
“More than 140,000 deaths have been due to Covid-19, meaning that it has been determined as the underlying cause. To exclude individuals with any pre-existing conditions from this figure greatly understates the number of people who died from Covid-19 and who might well still be alive had the pandemic not occurred,” he wrote.
Davis appeared to have come across the statistic after watching a video he described as an “excellent summation” made by the YouTube blogger Dr John Campbell. Davis did not say that the figure represented the true pandemic toll, but described the video as “disentangling the statistics”.