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Debunked: The claims in this Facebook video about suicide figures and number of Covid deaths in Ireland are inaccurate

In the video, Ben Gilroy makes a number of false and misleading claims about coronavirus and suicide in Ireland.

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LATE ON MONDAY evening, a video making a number of claims about coronavirus and suicide figures in Ireland began to spread widely on Facebook in Ireland. 

In the video, anti-government campaigner Ben Gilroy and a man identified as Vin Byrne stand outside Government Buildings on Dublin’s Merrion Street and discuss recently-released figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre. 

The video has gone viral in under 24 hours: it has been viewed 500,000 times on one Facebook page and has been shared over 14,000 times. 

However the 6-minute video contains a number of false and misleading claims about coronavirus and suicide in Ireland.  

Claim 1: The total number of deaths in Ireland from Covid is 100 people

In the video Gilroy quotes figures from a report by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), the State agency which monitors diseases and regularly publishes statistics on the virus in Ireland.

These figures, which have been published every weekday since late March, are frequently reported on by the media

The most recent report by the HPSC, which was published yesterday, notes that of the 1,777 deaths related to Covid-19 in this country to date, 1,677 people had “underlying clinical conditions”, meaning 100 people did not.

(Note: the number of deaths rose to 1,778 this evening) 

Gilroy uses this figure to come to the conclusion at a number of points in the video that just 100 people have actually died from Covid-19. While it may be true to say that these people died from Covid-19 alone, the virus was a factor in all 1,777 deaths.

Gilroy claims that because the vast majority of people who died had underlying health conditions means they didn’t actually die from the virus. He also notes that most people who died from the virus were elderly.

He claims that the figures are deliberately being inflated to prolong public health restrictions related to business, such as some pubs remaining closed, and travel.
Gilroy states: “It’s a detailed report but the shocking thing about this report is that it now tells us something that a lot of us already knew – the total number of deaths in this country by Covid alone is 100 people.”

He continues: “We have closed down the entire country because of that. And those deaths, while I’m not trying to diminish anybody’s deaths, are mostly over 70 years of age.”

People whose death was related to Covid-19 have ranged in age from 17 to 105; the median age is 84 and the mean age is 82, according to HSPC figures.

When asked about the claims made in the video, a spokesperson for the Department of Health told TheJournal.ie: “It is true that the majority of people in Ireland who have died as a result of Covid-19 have had an underlying medical condition.

It is important to note that a third of people in Ireland (32%) have a long-standing health condition. This is a significant part of our society. Every single person with an underlying medical condition is important. Their lives matter.

“Those with underlying medical conditions who have died from Covid-19 may have continued to live for a long time if they had not contracted it.

“It should also be said that death from Covid-19 is the worst possible outcome, but other adverse outcomes are possible. Many people, both those with and without pre-existing conditions, who have contracted Covid-19 have experienced a long period of recovery after their acute illness. Post-Covid-19 syndrome is an area of active research.”

Information on over 30 pre-existing conditions is collected as part of Ireland’s Covid-19 surveillance data. These conditions range from long-term aspirin therapy and hypertension to cancer, cerebral palsy and pregnancy.

Ireland follows guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) when counting Covid-19 deaths.

This guidance, which can be read in full here, advises the following:

“A death due to COVID-19 is defined for surveillance purposes as a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness, in a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to COVID disease (e.g. trauma). There should be no period of complete recovery from COVID-19 between illness and death.

“A death due to COVID-19 may not be attributed to another disease (e.g. cancer) and should be counted independently of pre-existing conditions that are suspected of triggering a severe course of COVID-19.”

Claim 2: There were 350 deaths by suicide in Ireland last year with an average age of 40 

Early in the video, Gilroy makes a claim about the number of people who have died by suicide in Ireland.

“Last year there was 350 deaths of an [sic] average age of 40 by suicide,” he says.

This is untrue. Provisional figures from the Central Statistics Office show that 421 people are believed to have died by suicide in Ireland in 2019.

Further, the average age of people who die by suicide in Ireland is not known. The figure is not compiled by any national organisation and is therefore impossible to provide.

The best available information about age comes from the CSO in its statistical report for 2019, which broke deaths by suicide down by age group, but without giving averages. 

Claim 3: Covid-19 is not a pandemic 

In the video, Gilroy claims that Covid-19 is “not even an epidemic”. 

An epidemic is when an illness or health-related event occurs in a community or region more than it usually would, whereas a pandemic occurs either worldwide or else over a very wide area which crosses international boundaries. 

The World Health Organization announced that Covid-19 was a pandemic on 11 March. 

Noting the “alarming levels of spread and severity, and the alarming levels of inaction,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Covid-19 could be characterised as a pandemic. 

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” he said. “It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”

He said that it was the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. 

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As of last month, just 12 countries in the world have not reported any cases of Covid-19.

Of these, two – North Korea and Turkmenistan – are seen as unreliable providers of accurate information, leaving a total of ten countries which are Covid-free, all of which are island nations located in the South Pacific Ocean

Claim 4: Four times as many people die from suicide compared to Covid-19 in Ireland. 

In the video, Gilroy claims that four times as many people die from suicide in Ireland compared to Covid-19.

“Remember: four times as many people die from suicide. That’s the tragedy of this country,” he says.

He appears to reference this earlier in the video too when he talks about a “400% rise” in  deaths by suicide, seeming to again compare them to deaths from Covid-19. 

The most recent year for which figures are available for suicides in Ireland is 2019. The only year for which figures are available for deaths by Covid-19 is 2020.

Looking at these numbers, 421 people died by suicide in Ireland in 2019, according to provisional figures from the CSO. There have been 1,778 Covid 19-related deaths in Ireland so far this year, as of 8 September.

This shows that the reverse is closer to the truth: there have been more than four times as many deaths from Covid-19 in Ireland than there were from suicide in the last year that figures are available for.

The remains true taking figures for deaths by suicide from previous years: there were 352 deaths provisionally in 2018, 383 in 2017, 506 in 2016 and 483 in 2015.

*******

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:

Órla Ryan and Christine Bohan

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