Analysis Breaking

Office for National Statistics figures show govt understating CV deaths by almost a quarter

Government is not telling us the facts

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) release of UK mortality figures has revealed government under-reporting of coronavirus deaths.

The ONS figures show that the government’s reports were understating the actual toll by almost a quarter – 23.5% – up to 20 March, with a real figure of 210 instead of the government’s 170.

The ONS figures include deaths outside hospitals, which the government has been excluding:

But as the crisis has escalated sharply since the cut-off for the latest ONS report, hospitals have also begun to report that the government is drastically understating even the coronavirus deaths in hospital – by half or more.

The Tories continue to mislead the UK’s people.

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34 comments

    1. One senses that support for ‘let it rip’ and an end to quarantine is falling away rapidly?

    2. RH, if you and Dr. Bhakdi are correct there will be no overwhelming of the NHS, no need for ice rink morgues, no need for extra ventilators – no need for any of the extreme countermeasures being taken.
      Maybe he’s right and the rest of the world including almost all its doctors are wrong.
      We’ll know soon enough.

      1. David McNiven
        The NHS is struggling because it has been run into the ground by 10 years of criminal under investment by scumbags
        Their plan is to sell what’s left to Trumpton
        They have a visceral hatred of the NHS
        What was Austerity, it’s there now for all to see
        The other thing the professor missed was Northern Italy is where wealthy Italians go to die
        CV is laying bare neo liberal hatred of public services and the role of the state
        REJOICE
        It’s the end of casino capatalism

    3. 1. Paul : It’s not an argument for ‘Let it Rip’ – although, in effect, is what has actually been done previous virus outbreaks. No-one is arguing against hygeine and social distancing. Much has been made also of ‘herd immunity’ as a ‘policy’. Actually, in absence of a vaccine, a growing herd immunity is the only general immunity that there is.

      2. David – Just to be clear, ‘I’ am not correct – or otherwise. I don’t have the primary data or the analytical tools.

      I am just passing on a range of opinions and analyses that make general statistical sense (which I do have a grasp of) from credible experts in related fields.

      The link I posted to the Ionnides interview is probably the best overview in highlighting the high degree of *uncertainty* in the data, and the fact that, within that uncertainty, a doomsday scenario has a pretty low probability – for the reasons that others have also given. Again – it comes back to the ill-defined quantities of both numerator and denominator in coming up with a clear mortality ratio for the disease, given that a large number of cases seem to be asymptomatic..

      Undoubtedly, the disease has an increasing gradient of mortality with age – but with the caveat that presence of the virus doesn’t necessarily determine it as the *cause* of death in older cases with co-morbidity. But in that scenario, there will be pressure on the health services and need for ventilators and other equipment – as in other epidemics.

      In uncertain scenarios, precautionary measures are sensible – but, as you imply, any massively excess overall morbidity (in comparison with previous years) is *yet* to be seen within a pattern of considerable local variation. The best data sets (like that from the cruise ship) don’t in fact support the worst case scenario.

      The question is what counts as ‘sensible’ precautionary measures – and both Bhakdi and Ionnides implicity question the need for massive panic and lockdown, given the consequences.

      You’ll have gathered that my primary concern is not herd immunity as a topic, but herd panic driven by an overwhelming narrative that is excluding these alternative perspectives.

      Back to Nick Davies’s ‘churnalism’ issue.

      1. RH, your acceptance of the minority view of a retired professor writing in a website that appears to be cited by nobody – claiming that statistical analysis proves COVID-19 commonplace and trivial enough that the worldwide precautions are extreme over-reactions – suggests you went looking for support for your own contrarian view.
        Was Professor Emeritus Dr. Bhakdi the only or just the most renowned supporter of your view you could find?
        Except for Bolsonaro of course.

      2. ‘Minority view’ or ‘Not the view of the establishment and its press’?

        I expect better of you than simple ad hominem ripostes.

        In answer to your question :

        “Was Professor Emeritus Dr. Bhakdi the only or just the most renowned supporter of your view you could find?”

        The answer is a decisive ‘No’ – as a careful look and paying attention to other posts would show. Whether it’s a ‘minority view’ is hard to establish. But it is an informed view – science doesn’t work by simple majorities.

        “your acceptance of the minority view of a retired professor”

        As I said – it makes statistical sense, and is a lot better than the collective panic of the badly informed and the alternative conspiracy theories otherwise on display – fuelled by (hollow laugh) the government and its client press.

        Viruses – including the common cold – can be dangerous, But at present, the situation is, in summary, that :

        “Current all-cause mortality in Europe and in Italy is still normal or even below-average. Any excess mortality due to Covid-19 should become visible in the European monitoring charts.”

      3. ‘The common cold can be dangerous’? Really? You mean when you get Covid19 on top?

      4. When a common cold develops into a major respiratory tract infection, it becomes dangerous. Of course, this isn’t usual in normally healthy people, but nor are deaths from Covid-19.

      5. If a common cold develops into a major infection then I’d say it was no longer a common cold. The operative words are ‘develops’ and ‘major’. Your patient should be tested for Covid-19, there’s a lot of it about.

      6. The one given in all this is that both opposing views are using statistics to at best support a particular narrative and at worst push a specific agenda.

        Perhaps the most dishonest use is that of misleading comparisons.

        In the first instance the use of per capita comparisons which – at present – is low.

        In the second instance, and linked to the above, is comparisons with last, or previous years recorded deaths during comparable weeks.

        To take an example: even the ONS data is not useful in this regard because it’s data set for this and previous years tell us nothing about where those deaths occurred and were recorded.

        At present ALL the official UK Government figures of mortality rates associated with Covid-19 are from hospital admissions only, and doubt has been raised by front line medical staff that not all of these are being properly recorded in the stats put out by the UK Government.

        None of the stats presented so far from previous years tell us how many of the deaths in that particular week occurred in hospital rather than elsewhere. They tell us nothing about whether and how much stress was being placed on available health facilities or known immediate future stress in those previous years compared to today.

        And the point is the only relevant comparison here is with the facilities available to deal with a sudden influx of patients requiring hospital beds (142,000 according to the King’s Fund website), ventilators, and critical care facilities. An influx which available data and evidence suggests has an exponential future curve.

        There are other indicators which strongly suggest the UK Government are under recording rather than over recording.

        Firstly, the data from China shows the known reported cases in the first early weeks is a fraction of the actual existing true cases – which only start to converge as those true cases get reported.

        We can be sure this is certainly the case in the UK – as evidence shows elsewhere – given the criminal negligence of this Government the (USA is another) which (a) had no containment protocols in place at ports of entry even as late as last week.

        There were certainly none in place at the busiest airport in Europe, Heathrow on March 2 when I landed back from India when the number of cases had started to rise the previous week. Allowing people in transit from all over the world to intermingle in confined spaces with no checks, separation or testing to them disperse throughout the UK spreading anything from a bog standard cold to a known virus.

        And (b) no contingency plans involving PPE, sufficient ventilators, and testing kits.

        And (c) because we don’t have any capacity in our systems – for the sake of bottom line “efficiency” – we don’t have sufficient testing facilities therefore there is no means of knowing how many unknown, unrecorded cases exist in the UK.

        And they will certainly exist regardless of how many experts one wishes to hang their hat on. You cannot know how ma y cases exist if you are not testing for them. Which means not just that a lot of cases are not going to be recorded but also a proportion of those unknown cases are going to die outside of hospital.

        But, anything to push a particular narrative eh!

        A comparison with Germany highlights this. It is more than likely that the actual number of UK cases in existence is not that much difference from Germany. But they have sufficient testing resources and facilities and we do not. Hence it looks like we have far less cases than the Germans.

        Another clue to underreporting is in the critical care cases. The World average is ONLY 4.7% of cases. Yet at 163 we are way under that average. And yet front line medics ( compared to miles behind the lines “experts” and their acolyte mouthpieces) are already pressing panic buttons about such facilities being overwhelmed.

        It is also worth looking at the closed cases stats – with the UK (as of yesterday) stats of 9% recovered to 91% died worse than just about any other place on the planet.

        Talking of averages – for those tracking the official figures – the World average growth rate is 33% daily. Up until around the 16th March, when Johnson half heartedly decided to follow the science rather than the eugenics – the UK was tracking just above that average.

        On that day it suddenly went down by a significant amount. Since then we have largely been behind that curve – despite the fact that the systems required to meet the stated objectives of lockdown ( sufficient public transport to get people safely to work; enforcement; containment protocols at ports of entry etc etc) are insufficient.

        The US, which has been equally sanguine (ie couldn’t give a toss because like the UK they wanted business as usual) have certainly not been as canny with their figures as we have in the UK.

        At present, in terms of a proportion of their population compared to China they are tracking far higher.

        What this means is we are both (UK as well as the USA) going to see and be part of an interesting experiment in real time between an approach which prioritises the right to live as the higher liberty (China) and an approach which prioritises business as usual using the cover of some theoretical liberties.

        Why does this matter?

        Well firstly we are where we are because the UK Powers That Be did not put sufficient measures in place to contain the spread. Their approach was business as usual with an opportunity to cull the “economically inactive.”

        The exact opposite of all the fear porn being bandied about concerning ‘Marshall Law” etc. If sensible measures had been applied in he first place we would not be in the position we are now of having to introduce more stringent measures.

        Not that the Eton Fourth Form Remove have any enthusiasm for that approach – it’s bad for business locking down populations for months on end and it’s clear they are still favouring the cullng approach that’s in their DNA.

        And not that the capacity exists to achieve such an objective with the army as well as the police and NHS and every system we have cut to the bone over several decades.

        It also matters because what might be termed the “counter narrative” pushing this line let’s the Government off the hook on a range of critical questions and issues only some of which are mentioned above.

        Which is convenient for the Powers That Be.

      7. @ RH 10:23 pm

        “This does not indicate that this year *at present* is exceptional in terms of the run of seasonal viruses.”

        By the time a possible pandemic is discovered in the age of mass global transport only an immediate response can have any hope of quelling it.
        The world can’t wait for unanimity among statisticians before acting.
        The human danger of not acting outweighs the economic danger of acting – except for those whose sole concern is to preserve their wealth and privilege.
        At the end of a pandemic and the economic hiatus of quarantine the means of production still exist.
        If the survivors wish to utilise them they will, however loudly the ex-owners bleat.

      8. “This does not indicate that this year *at present* is exceptional in terms of the run of seasonal viruses.”

        Then why is it that medical facilities here and elsewhere are stretched and front line medical staff reporting they do not have sufficient equipment to deal with a spike in cases requiring hospital beds and critical care facilities?

        The questions which need to be asked are being buried by this narrative. If there is nothing “exceptional” this year at least two pertinent questions need to be addressed.

        Firstly, why it is that reality does not fit the statistical model being pushed here?

        One would suggest that consideration be given to the need for the statistical model, along with the narrative of which it is a part, to fit those realities.

        Secondly, why it is that health facilitities in the UK, and at least several other countries are so run down they cannot handle an unexceptional run of seasonal viruses?

        Not to mention, of course, the supplementary questions about the absense of contingency planning which has resulted in insufficient resources of PPE, masks, ventilators, testing let’s etc; the non existent containment protocols when they were needed and so on.

        The Government is in panic mode (trapped between its ideological commitment to business as usual with the opportunism to cull the economically inactive and dealing with the inevitable results of decades of system resourcing)

        It’s flailing about with half hearted attempts to rectify their recent couldn’t give a toss attitudes and behaviours which drove irresponsible policy approaches, and we have people letting them off the hook by pushing an agenda this is not happening and they have nothing to worry about.

        Bleedin’ priceless!

  1. Is it just the NHS hospital figures that the gov are fudging or are all hospitals, including private, included in their numbers ?

    1. Foggy, their figs only include deaths in hospital. So all death out of hospital have not been included. Tory figs are AT LEAST 20% less than the true fatalities. I would also add the fatalities due to the psychological strain of the Tories allowing the virus to spread. We will sadly have suicides, murders and PTSD as this is a traumatic experience for the general public, patients, their significant others and staff AND their significant others. Add to that the trauma of job loss / dislocation.

      Good can come out of every situation, but the bad is quite profound and far reaching. Boris Johnson and his Tories are causes and catalysts for much that is profoundly bad. People are just used to it. After too many generations it is taken as the way of living. Myths. Unchallenged myths. People can even give their lives to protect and defend myths. Me thinks it is because we are social beings. The instinct is to agree… to coalesce around one view… bring people together etc eg the world is flat… the planets revolve around the earth etc. Lots of “experts” defended what we now regard as ridiculous. Those who disagreed were heretics… evil.

      We can see the same response from a few who may be sincere, but like worker ants, they are on high alert, programmed by nature / nurture to attack a stick. The same can happen in groups. There will always be peace keepers and challengers and defender ants. Were you to drop honey the defender ants would go berserk and attack.

      Similarly some humans go into full stalker crazed mode when any observations for change are presented. Of course the logical method to succeed, is to identify problems and solve them. This is standard in medicine, science, industry, sport… even knitting. It is only in areas where people have become “divorced” … unknowingly, unwittingly distanced from an original purpose, you get a pronounced defender ant behaviour.

      We all have different strengths. Mine, especially now as the preservation of our party is at risks, … mine do not include knowing how to help the crazed stalking defender ant like human, that guards to the death, the same old failed ways. I really wish i knew how to help 🌹🌹🌹

  2. The latest updates of the Swiss website that collates contrary information and data [ https://swprs.org/a-swiss-doctor-on-covid-19/#latest ] :

    March 31, 2020 (II)

    A graphical analysis of the European monitoring data impressively shows that, irrespective of the measures taken, overall mortality throughout Europe remained in the normal range or below by March 25, and often significantly below the levels of previous years. Only in Italy (65+) was the overall mortality rate somewhat increased (probably for several reasons), but it was still below previous flu seasons.

    The president of the German Robert Koch Institute confirmed again that pre-existing conditions and actual cause of death do not play a role in the definition of so-called „corona deaths“. From a medical point of view, such a definition is clearly misleading. It has the obvious and generally known effect of putting politics and society in fear.

    In Italy the situation is now beginning to calm down. As far as is known, the temporarily increased mortality rates (65+) were rather local effects, often accompanied by mass panic and a breakdown in health care. A politician from northern Italy asks, for example, „how is it possible that Covid patients from Brescia are transported to Germany, while in the nearby Verona two thirds of intensive care beds are empty?“

    In an article published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, Stanford professor of medicine John C. Ioannidis criticizes the „harms of exaggerated information and non-evidence-based measures“. Even journals had published dubious claims at the beginning.

    A Chinese study published in the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology in early March, which demonstrated the unreliability of the Covid19 virus tests (approx. 50% false-positive results in asymptomatic patients), has since been withdrawn. The lead author of the study, after all dean of a medical school, did not want to give the reason for the withdrawal and spoke of a „sensitive matter„, which could indicate political pressure, as one NPR journalist suspected. Independent of this study, however, the unreliability of so-called PCR virus tests has long been known: In 2006, for example, a mass infection in a Canadian nursing home with SARS corona viruses was „found“, which later turned out to be common cold corona viruses (which can also be fatal for risk groups).

    Authors of the German Risk Management Network RiskNET speak in a Covid19 analysis of a „blind flight“ as well as „insufficient data competence and data ethics“. Instead of more and more tests and measures a representative sample is necessary. The „sense and ratio“ of the measures taken must be critically questioned.

    The Spanish interview with the internationally renowned Argentinian-French virologist Pablo Goldschmidt was translated into German. Goldschmidt considers the measures imposed to be medically counterproductive and notes that one must now „read Hannah Arendt“ to understand the „origins of totalitarianism“.

    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, like other prime ministers and presidents before him, has largely disempowered the Hungarian parliament under an „emergency law“ and can now govern essentially by decree.

  3. If you see muzzle flashes a mile away do you stay standing because there’s hardly any chance of being hit from that distance – or do you risk the possibility of injuring yourself and hit the deck?

    1. What you don’t do is chuck yourself over the opposite parapet without checking the drop and whether ther’s any other hazards – just because someone with a blue badge says ‘Boo!’.

      1. RH, you clearly dispute the need for the current precautions – if it’s not because you believe the economic loss to the established order as a consequence of those precautions is a greater danger than CV perhaps you’d explain?
        Is your major fear perhaps the very real possibility of the UK descending into actual socialism when the Tories are seen for the greedy, reckless, homicidally incompetent fuckwits they are?

  4. I’m watching the usual BBC update. The innumeracy/illiteracy of the analysis is the most striking feature. Raw figures staggering around like drunks on a stag-do – but not a single comparative reference making comparison with the baseline average mortality rates etc., and not a single mention of such issues as comorbidity or the distinction between infection and disease etc.

    Sorry, I’m not naive enough to not check my brain wallet when I hear Gove spouting worthiness! And I’m sane enough to raise an eyebrow at police using dones to follow people walking well away from others in the Peak.

    1. RH,

      To repeat: The only practical relevant comparative frame of reference right now is that of the capacity and ability of health systems to deal with cases presented to them.

      Comparisons with previous years are meaningless in a context in which health professionals on the actual front line – as compared to couch potato statisticians miles behind the lines – are telling us they are under resourced in a variety of ways to the extent they are concerned about their ability to deal with a health issue.

      Pretending there is no issue is tilting at windmills.

      We know the Chinese had to take drastic action, following an initial period of the same kind of denial you are pushing, which included rapid construction of extra bed facilities including critical care beds to deal with the exponential increase in cases the modelling told them were about to occur.

      On which subject it beggars belief that aspiring expert statisticians have not deemed to pass observation on the fact that according to the Governments released figures the number of serious and critical Covid-19 cases has stood still at a figure of 163 in the UK for at least the last four days in a row at the same time as the number of known cases (ie being presented to hospitals) has grown by over 8,000.

      Representing 0.65% of all cases when the observed average of such serious/critical cases is 4.7%,

      We also know from the Chinese experience it takes time for the number of true cases to find their way into the statistical known cases as they start to present to hospitals for medical treatment.

      Consequently, it would seem reasonable to advise not to count your chickens before they are hatched. It is early days yet.

      Pushing a narrative of “nothing to see here” merely serves to hide the inability of the systems designed by neo-liberal model to cope with anything beyond the narrow parameters of the bottom line.

      It sweeps under the carpet the fact that the current situation is exacerbated by the inability of hollowed out systems (not just health) to actually cope with any real world event outside of the narrow simplistic tick in a box bottom line thinking which dominates Western (neo-liberal) orthodoxy.

      Slack/some spare capacity was once built into systems for a reason.

      Unfortunately, we have no slack or spare capacity in any system you can name. It’s all been cut to the bone after four decades of simplistic voodoo economic dogma in which everyday systems we take for granted have been hollowed out. Leaving no robustness, no versatility, no capacity not even any recognition of a coherent feasible organising principle within the dominant cultural narrative.

      See here for example: http://www.harrowell.org.uk/blog/2018/01/31/in-the-eternal-inferno-fiends-torment-ronald-coase-with-the-fate-of-his-ideas/

      We are in the early stages of the exponential growth of a virus at loose in society in which only 4.7% of cases require critical care beds. Yet already nearly two weeks ago (at a time when there were only around a 1,000 cases in the Government statistics) a London hospital was declaring a major incident as its cut to the bone critical care bed capacity is overwhelmed.

      Last week similar warnings were issued concerning the ability of some of the Regional Health Authorities to cope.

      So it would seem reasonable to focus on the here and now. With the job that is actually in front of us.

      Which might focus more on practical realities rather than theoretical modelling based on assumptions which try to fit real life into the models rather than the proper way around.

  5. This is what the ONS says about the discrepancy, for further details follow the link below.

    So who is right about the number of deaths?

    The issue is not really about right or wrong, but about each source of data having its own strengths and weaknesses.

    The figures published on GOV.UK are valuable because they are available very quickly, and give an indication of what is happening day by day. Their definition is also clear, so the limitations of the data can be understood. But they won’t necessarily include all deaths involving COVID-19, such as those not in a hospital.

    Numbers produced by ONS are much slower to prepare, because they have to be certified by a doctor, registered and processed. But once ready, they are the most accurate and complete information.

    Using the complete death certificate allows us to analyse a lot of information, such as what other health conditions contributed to the death. We will start publishing more detailed breakdowns of the figures as soon as possible.
    https://blog.ons.gov.uk/2020/03/31/counting-deaths-involving-the-coronavirus-covid-19/

    1. SteveH
      Did I read somewhere that the guidance has changed to allow Covid 19 to be put on death certificate
      Whereas in the past this would not have been the case for obvious reasons

      1. Steve – I think that Doug is pointing out that if seasonal influenza was recorded in the same distinct way as a ’cause of death’, we would have a similar scare every year.

        The issue is raised by Professor John Lee in his article.

        … but Doug can speak for himself

      2. RH – and there I was thinking the most obvious reason was that just a few months ago Covid -19 literally didn’t exist so there inevitably had to be a process of approval for it to be used on death certificates.
        I suppose the major differences between influenza and Covid-19 is that the incidence of influenza is mitigated by our previous exposure to other strains of influenza and the flu-jab also helps. There are also recognised procedures and drugs to mitigate the symptoms and aid recovery whereas with Covid-19 there is no established immunity or vaccine to reduce the incidence. There are also no drugs to aid recovery With severe Covid-19 symptoms the only option appears to be ventilation and hope for the best. I’m not surprising that people are apprehensive.

    2. The problem is that what is recorded in the figures are not capable of distinguishing cause and co-morbidity.

      “UK certifications normally under-record deaths due to respiratory infections.”

      That is why the only clear assessment of any epidemic of morbidity is dependent on overall changes in death rates between years; the attribution of death to one particular virus is too prone to error.

      1. RH – The metric you advocate is inappropriate because it ignores the improvements made in mitigating other causes of death.

      2. First the statisticians would argue over what the objective of the exercise ought to be, then over what data should be gathered, how it should be gathered, over what period and by whom, who should be on the committee to decide which institutions should be trusted with the analysis…
        They’d still be collecting data to settle the dispute over whether it really fits the definition of a pandemic when the next one arrives.

      3. No, Steve- it gives a reliaable baseline context in which excess or unusual mortality will show up – which is the point.

        There is no satisfactory way of satisfactorily distinguishing deaths *due to* coronovirus – nor is there currently any way of enumerating the amount of infection in the population – both of which are key (obviously) to establishing the characteristics of this virus.

        And David – your comment is horribly reminiscent of Gove rubbishing ‘experts’. It was ironic that this homunculus (rough copy) was up in front of the cameras yesterday. Highly appropriate.

        Sorry – I prefer information (which can only come from accurate data) to blind panic and speculation.

        If it’s ‘contrarian’ to hold that position, I plead guilty.

  6. I see Toby Young says it’s a waste of money to try and save the lives of the elderly who will die in a couple of years anyway. Not sure how old he is ….

    1. Or whether he has a father? At least his argument is simpler and more honest than some we’ve seen here; ‘it’s too expensive and a waste of time to try and save old people’.

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