StatisticsThe Limits of COVID Death Statistics

Published 26 June 2020

As is often said, choose your statistics carefully and you can use them make just about any point you want to. Ross Clark writes in The Spectator, however, that rarely does the Office for National Statistics put out two releases – the first one here (showing that overall deaths in England and Wales, while they have fallen, are still running at 5.9 percent above the average for the time of year); the second one here (showing that overall deaths in England and Wales are running at 5.9 percent below the average of the past five years [8,686 compared with 9,233]). The differences are the result of different counting methods, and the fact that the second release covers a slightly longer period – but even so, we can assume that one contributing factor to the decline of overall death is almost certainly that COVID-19 has been killing large numbers of people who were close to death anyway – it brought their deaths forward, hence the large spike in April that will now be followed by a long period of below-average deaths. “One of the perverse outcomes of COVID-19 is that it might briefly flatter the figures for circulatory diseases and lung cancer. People whose deaths would have been attributed to those conditions will instead have gone down as Covid-19 deaths,” Clark writes.