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FactCheck: Have 'only 8 people' under 65 died from Covid-19 in Ireland?

This claim has been shared frequently in the past week – but it is misleading at best.

fact deb

THERE HAS BEEN plenty of debate about the various ways countries count Covid-19 deaths. 

TheJournal.ie previously published a FactFind on this very issue and has also debunked claims related to the survival rate for the virus and claims about the number of ‘direct deaths’ in this country

The claim

One claim that has been doing the rounds in the past week or so on social media is the number of people under 65 who have died from the coronavirus.

Radio talk show presenter Niall Boylan made a claim about this on Twitter earlier this month and a screenshot of the tweet has also been shared prominently on Facebook.  

The tweet claims that “only 8 people under 65 in Ireland died from Covid-19″.

As of Friday afternoon, that tweet has been shared almost 400 times and a Facebook post which shared an image of the tweet has also been shared almost 150 times.

That Facebook post, which is not by Boylan, claims that “YOU HAVE ALL BEEN PLAYED AND LIED TO”. 

niall Source: Twitter

The facts

Firstly, let’s look at the numbers in question and the meaning behind them.

As of midnight on Tuesday, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre recorded a total of 1,763 deaths related to Covid-19. 

In an age breakdown of the deaths, the HPSC records that 117 relate to people aged under 65 while 1,664 are among people aged over 65. 

At the time that Boylan shared the original tweet on 14 July, the number of Covid-19 deaths among people under 65 was 113, not eight

Asked by TheJournal.ie to clarify his tweet, Boylan said he specifically used the term ‘from Covid-19′ and not ‘with Covid-19′. 

He said it was important to distinguish deaths among people with and without underlying health conditions, “in other words people who had died from coronavirus”.

In relation to the specific figure of eight people in the tweet, Boylan said it was a direct quote from a statement made by Independent TD Michael McNamara.

At a recent sitting of the Special Committee on Covid-19, McNamara said:

There have been more than 1,700 deaths from Covid-19. Eight of those who have died were under the age of 65 and did not have an underlying condition. Of course, each of the 1,700 deaths is a tragedy. That said, it is possible that we have lost a sense of perspective.

There are therefore two questions that arise from that Dáil statement, namely whether the deputy’s figures are accurate and whether Boylan has quoted them correctly. 

On the first question, we can refer to research published by the Central Statistics Office which records underlying health conditions among Covid-19 deaths.

In the age group of 25-64, the CSO recorded in its latest release that 98 people from a total of 107 who sadly died had an underlying health condition.  

That means that all but nine of those people between 25-64 who have died with Covid-19 had an underlying health condition. 

When the deputy spoke in the Dáil last week that number was eight, so he is correct in the above statement. 

coronavirus-tue-may-5-2020 Infection Control nurse Colin Clarke in a hospital in Co Armagh. Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

The verdict

The second question that we must therefore ask is whether the deputy’s statement was used correctly in Boylan’s tweet. 

The tweet in question does not provide any details about underlying health conditions, it instead uses the word ‘from’ to infer that Covid-19 was the cause of death in the cases. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Boylan said that this is due to the word constraints in his tweet.

“Twitter is limited with characters, so you have to use word economy when you’re doing it. It absolutely wasn’t done to be sensational,” he said. 

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While it may be the case that there is a character limit on Twitter, the tweet makes a critical judgement that only those without an underlying medical condition die ‘from’ Covid-19.  

The Department of Health has previously outlined that, in line with WHO guidance,  Covid-19 deaths are recorded as such, “where the disease caused, or is assumed to have caused, or contributed to death”. 

The guidelines also note that if the person who died was suffering from other conditions, these should also be included on the death certificate.

For example, in cases where Covid-19 caused pneumonia and fatal respiratory distress, both pneumonia and respiratory distress should be included on the certificate, along with the virus, to highlight the “chain of events” that led to the person’s death. 

This therefore shows that Covid-19 need not be the only medical condition to have caused a death, but that its presence was part of the process which led to the death of a patient. 

As such, we have labelled the original claim as misleading because it omits crucial details that may lead to readers forming an incorrect conclusion.

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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