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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone January 24, 2022

No, death totals from COVID-19 in England have not been overstated

If Your Time is short

  • The U.K.’s Office for National Statistics shows 18,907 deaths that were attributed solely to COVID-19 in England and Wales since the pandemic began.

  • The agency also reports 140,776 deaths in those countries "due to COVID-19," meaning where the virus was the underlying cause of death, in that same period. 

  • The underlying cause of death is defined by the World Health Organization as the disease or injury that started "the train of events directly leading to death."

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, some critics of measures to control the virus have downplayed its seriousness, suggesting the real death toll is much lower than what is being reported.

Numbers released in the U.K. last month showing deaths solely attributed to COVID-19 have prompted another such claim.

The headline for a YouTube video from "The Jimmy Dore Show" reads, "Total deaths from COVID MUCH LOWER than reported."

Dore shares his interpretation of another YouTube video from a Britain named John Campbell, whose bio describes him as a "a retired Nurse Teacher" and emergency nurse with a Ph.D focused on nurse education. He has more than 2 million subscribers to his channel, where he often discusses his views on the COVID-19 pandemic.

"John Campbell’s gonna tell you what the real death rate is in the U.K., and the answer is going to surprise you," Dore tells his viewers near the start of the video.

Campbell then shares information released recently by the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics that he says shows that COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic attributed solely to the virus "may be way lower than anyone had thought." He then said that such data would likely also apply to the U.S. and the rest of the world.

According to the data Campbell shows in his Jan. 20 video, in 2020 and the first three quarters of 2021, there were 17,371 deaths in England and Wales where the sole cause of death listed on death certificates was COVID-19. Since his video was published, fourth quarter numbers were released, showing a total of 18,907 deaths from COVID-19 alone. 

"So you mean all the stuff that they’ve been saying for two years straight about the death rate has been bull—-?" said Dore, who said Americans have been "victims of a scaremongering campaign." 

No, that’s not what the numbers mean.

According to the report cited in the video, there were 131,641 COVID-19 deaths overall in England and Wales at the time it was published and 140,776 in the most recent report. The numbers Campbell cites are those whose sole cause of death was listed as COVID-19. But that does not mean the other deaths attributed to the virus aren’t also legitimate — they simply show people whose deaths were attributed to COVID-19 and other conditions at the same time.

Separate numbers from the U.K. Health Security Agency show that 153,916 people died within 28 days of a COVID-19 diagnosis. It also reports 175,256 people have died with the virus mentioned as one of the causes of death. These figures include all of the U.K, including Northern Ireland and Scotland.

"We use the term ‘due to COVID-19’ when referring only to deaths with an underlying cause of death of COVID-19. When taking into account all of the deaths that mentioned COVID-19 anywhere on the death certificate, whether as an underlying cause or not, we use the term ‘involving COVID-19,’" a spokesperson for the Office for National Statistics wrote in an email to PolitiFact.

The spokesperson added that when doctors or coroners write death certificates, they only include health conditions that actually contributed to the cause of death. The certificate has two parts, one for the sequence of events leading directly to death and a second part for other health conditions that contributed, but were not part of the direct sequence leading to death.

"So, if a person did have COVID-19 but there was no reason to think that was at least part of the reason they died, the doctor or coroner would not write it on the death certificate. In other words, if COVID-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, it is always part of the cause of death, either on its own or in combination with other health conditions," he said.

The Office of National Statistics website references the World Health Organization definition of "underlying cause of death" as the disease or injury that started "the train of events directly leading to death."

In December, of deaths where COVID-19 was listed anywhere on the death certificate, 83.8% of those deaths in England and 79.6% in Wales list COVID-19 as the underlying cause of death, ONS data shows.

Claims that COVID-19 deaths are lower than reported have been common throughout the pandemic from critics who argue the virus is not as serious as we are being led to believe. In fact, however, researchers have found evidence that overall deaths from COVID-19 have been undercounted, not overcounted, since the start of the pandemic.

Our rating

The title of a YouTube video shared on Facebook read, "Total deaths from COVID MUCH LOWER than reported." As evidence, the video points to numbers from England and Wales showing that 17,371 deaths were attributed to COVID-19 alone.

But that’s a misleading interpretation of the data. The U.K. report cited in the video clearly states that all 131,641 deaths — more than seven times what the video claims — were "due to COVID-19," meaning the virus was the underlying cause of death, even if the patients had preexisting health conditions that may have contributed.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

RELATED LINK: COVID-19 death toll has not been overcounte

Our Sources

The Jimmy Dore Show, "Total Deaths From COVID MUCH LOWER Than Reported," Jan. 23, 2022

Dr. John Campbell, YouTube, "Freedom of information revelation," Jan. 20, 2022

Office for National Statistics, "Deaths from COVID-19 with no other underlying causes," Dec. 16, 2021

Office for National Statistics, "Pre-existing conditions of people who died due to COVID-19, England and Wales," Jan. 21, 2022

Office for National Statistics, "Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest insights: Deaths," Jan. 21, 2022

Office for National Statistics, "Monthly mortality analysis, England and Wales: December 2021," Jan. 21, 2022

Office for National Statistics, "Cause of death coding"

Office for National Statistics, "How ONS COVID-19 mortality statistics are compiled"

U.K. Health Security Agency, "Deaths in United Kingdom" Jan. 23, 2022

PolitiFact, "COVID-19 death toll has not been overcounted," Jan. 21, 2022

PolitiFact, "No, the CDC did not ‘quietly adjust’ US coronavirus deaths," Aug. 30, 2020

Insider, "An emergency nurse went viral on YouTube for his videos on the coronavirus, bringing in millions of views on his health and science lectures," March 16, 2020

CDC, "COVID-19 Mortality Overview"

CDC, "Comorbidities and other conditions," Jan. 16, 2022

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No, death totals from COVID-19 in England have not been overstated

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