Alternative Column | 3rd June

Counting and Interpreting The Covid Death Toll - A Silent Complexity

If we take these numbers at face value, we will never truly know the depth of this disease.

Whether you believe there is a deeper, egregious reason behind the pandemic or not, we can all agree that since it began, measures like never before have come into place under the ostensible purpose of ‘saving lives’. Governments have moved from two weeks to stop the spread, to taking children out of school, closing businesses, and almost entirely shutting down the economy, all justified by a set of numbers – which overwhelmingly go unquestioned. 

Currently, as of writing, according to Johns Hopkins University, who have been widely responsible for calculating deaths figures globally, England has had 3.92million Covid-19 cases, resulting in (officially) 112 thousand deaths, and the rest of the UK has had 573 thousand cases and 15.4 thousand deaths.

Similar numbers around the world are also present; although inconsistencies are often found, the media loves to unquestionably raise the alarm. In April, CNN – one of Americas largest broadcasting and media corporations, was caught undercover by Project Veritas explaining how the network worked in ‘propaganda’. When asked, ”why don’t you guys show the recovery rates on the death tolls, at least?”, one director responded: ”Because that’s not scary … if it bleeds, it leads”.

”Fear sells”, he explained, ”like fear really drives numbers”… ”fear is the thing that keeps you tuned in”. ”Start to listen to how they word things, inflection saying things like twice, like there’s little subtleties to how to manipulate people”.

Clearly, major efforts are consumed in showing deaths numbers, but with little context behind the figures, they begin to resonate more with alarmism and cynical agenda, rather than an honest review.

The Numbers

In regard to counting Covid-19 deaths, which in the UK class as any death within 28 days of a positive test diagnosis, for the first time ever, deaths have been represented collectively, as running deaths, rather than the usual annual or seasonal calculations. Unlike with any other disease where you would separately show figures seasonally, or annually, Covid-19 deaths from all years have been adopted as one figure, showing both the deaths from the original peak in early 2020 and from the second peak in 2021.

Similarly, if you added all previous Influenza and Pneumonia figures as one, you would have yourself a rather terrifying figure. Why this has been done is questionable, although psychological intimidation isn’t too far out. A paper published by SAGE – the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies to the government, titled options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures concluded:

 A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened; it could be that they are reassured by the low death rate in their demographic group, although levels of concern may be rising…

The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.

It comes as no surprise then, a poll recorded by market research firm SavantaComRes, a member of the British Polling Council found severe inaccuracies in public opinion on the virus. One major observation made by the poll in November was that Britons thought that the average age of mortality from Covid-19 was 65, when in reality, according to ONS, the Office of National Statistics, the mortality age was 81 for a man, and 85 for a woman.

Source: Office for National Statistics

These figures deserve some attention because not only are they substantially higher than public opinion, but actually higher than the average mortality rate from old age. ONS figures from 2019 reveal that the average life expectancy for a man is currently 79.4 years, and for a female calculates to 83.1 years, meaning that the average person dying from Covid-19… forgive me, should have already have died two years ago.

What this reveals is that Covid-19 predominantly kills people with a low life expectancy because of their age, and predominantly people who have pre-existing conditions which would already be life-limiting. Other age groups, however, are usually at minor risk, with British Medical Journal claiming the children who had died already had ‘profound comorbidities’. 

As an average person, if you look at the news and the mortality figures from face value, as they are usually represented, they may seem rather shocking. However, a deeper look into NHS statistics shows that although many people have died with covid-19, when segmented by age, and condition, the picture begins to look rather different.

Source: Nation Health Service (NHS)

According to the latest (3rd June) calculations of hospitalised deaths in England, despite a rather scary 87,213 deaths after testing positive for Covid-19, figures show that those under the age of 20 accounted for just 32 deaths, only 8 of which had no pre-existing conditions. Adding those between the age of 0-39 of all conditions gets you just 649 deaths, only 90 of which had no pre-existing conditions.

Compared once again to the total hospitalised deaths in England of 87,213, all deaths below 60 years of age accounted for 6,926, of which the majority, 6,223 all had pre-existing conditions. The figures also clearly show that the vast majority of deaths were from people who were elderly and simultaneously had pre-existing conditions. 54% of the deaths were from people 80+ (the age people are expected to die in Britain), with only 1,372 (3%) of those 45,539 deaths not having pre-existing conditions. *Old age is not classed as a pre-existing condition.  

Taking a further step back, of all 87,213 hospitalised deaths in the chart, if you take away all deaths from people with pre-existing conditions, you are left with a far lower 3,589 deaths, which accounts for 4.1% percent of total deaths. If you do the same procedure for all people 0-59, only 701, or 0.8% died with no pre-existing conditions. Only might sound cold, but in comparison with the other figures, who desperately lack context, it seems a lot more acceptable.

Still An Excess Of Deaths

Regarding old age, another claim that desperately misses context is that there has been a peek of deaths during the pandemic. This is true, with an estimated 70 thousand excess deaths in 2020; however, compared to 550,000 yearly deaths on average, this is still a lot, but only encompasses less than 1/7th of yearly deaths. Similarly, when media channels talk about 10, 25 or 500 daily deaths from Coronavirus, what they ‘forget’ to miss is that it is compared to a daily average of 1500 deaths, or once again, 550,000 average yearly deaths.

The figure also fails to encompass that although Covid could be a reasonable and maybe even predominant reason for the excess in deaths, other reasons such as denied access to health care could very possibly be a contributing factor.

According to an article by the Telegraph, statistics revealed that over the pandemic, nearly 300,000 urgent cancer-related checks and admissions were missed in Britain. When you have a major fear campaign running Britain, it will be no surprise that many people fearing the possibility of ‘killing grandma’ will avoid getting checked, if not denied access to stop hospitals from being overwhelmed. On the same grounds of ‘protecting hospitals’, many elderly people were also pressured into signing do not resuscitate forms, creating more opportunity for the death of the elderly and frail. 

Writing Certificates

In regards to counting Coronavirus deaths, since the introduction of the Coronavirus Emergency Relief Act, guidance from the NHS and other bodies has unfortunately become rather broad.

In a government medical document explaining guidance for completing medical certificates for cause of death in England and Wales, it explained that ‘medical practitioners are required to certify causes of death “to the best of their knowledge and belief”. Without diagnostic proof, if appropriate and to avoid delay, medical practitioners can circle ‘2’ in the MCCD.’

… ‘For example, if before death the patient had symptoms typical of COVID- 19 infection, but the test result has not been received, it would be satisfactory to give ‘COVID-19’ as the cause of death, tick Box B and then share the test result when it becomes available. In the circumstances of there being no swab, it is satisfactory to apply clinical judgement.’

Medical practitioners are now permitted ‘to avoid delay‘ by filling out an MCCD (Medical Certificate of Cause of Death) without diagnostic proof. As explained, it is also ‘satisfactory’ for NHS workers to give Covid-19 as the cause of death. Unlike some other diseases (like smallpox) where there is clear symptomatology, e.g., spots all over your skin, Covid-19 symptoms have the opportunity to overlap with a long list of other diseases. This, therefore, makes without diagnostic proof a possibly unstable territory.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), who are responsible for the monitoring of hospitals and care homes stated: ‘The rules on completion of the MCCD were changed following the Coronavirus Act 2020. For a doctor to complete a MCCD without referral to the coroner any doctor must have seen (including by video link) the patient in the 28 days before death.’

A video link is now sufficient evidence for a doctor to link a cause of death as Covid-19, they also clarified that Covid-19 was not a sufficient reason to have an autopsy done by a coroner:

‘COVID-19 as a cause of death (or contributory cause) is not a reason alone to refer a death to the coroner under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. COVID-19 is a notifiable disease under the Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010. However, this does not mean referral to a coroner is required under its notifiable status.’

Since the 29th of March last year, the Covid death count has included deaths where covid-19 is simply mentioned on the death certificate regardless of whether a test has even been pursued or not.

The Office of National Statistics clarified that within a care home: ‘the assessment of whether COVID-19 was involved may or may not correspond to a medical diagnosis or test result, or be reflected in the death certification.‘ Therefore, care homes, which hold the very age group of people who are dying from this disease, are not required to test their patients to list them as a Covid-19 death. When combined with the fact that UK businesses are receiving large government grants if they have been affected by the pandemic, perhaps a little incentive might urge managers to claim a few covid deaths. This is not necessarily meant in an egregious way, but rather, when many homes are struggling, changing the severity of the situation is never too far-off of an option.

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