This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 16 °C Tuesday 26 May, 2020
Advertisement

Debunked: No, the 'survival rate' for Covid-19 is not above 99.9%

This claim has been going around the internet for the past week.

fact deb

MISINFORMATION, HALF-TRUTHS and downright falsehoods about the Covid-19 pandemic have been spreading far and wide online.

One such category of misinformation is the use of incomplete or misleading figures to present an inaccurate picture.

A Facebook post by a general election candidate for the Irish Freedom Party falls into that category.

The post has been shared about 150 times over the past couple of days and appears to be a screenshot of a tweet that was sent about a week ago.

The claim

The tweet purports to show the “survival rates of Covid-19″ across seven badly affected countries, claiming the figure is above 99.9% in each case.

The original tweet was sent early on 13 May but a screenshot of it was sent about 12 hours later by US actor Kevin Sorbo, who has over 220,000 followers, and it went viral from there. 

The screenshot has been used many times since by people seeking to downplay the threat from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

PastedImage-98172 Source: Twitter

The figures are inaccurate for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, describing anything as a ‘survival rate’ is problematic because there is no accurate way to measure such a rate right now. Most people who are infected with Covid-19 suffer either mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, so many will not know for sure they were infected. 

Antibody tests, which could begin in Ireland next month, may ultimately give a better indication of how many people within a population contracted the virus, but even then there is unlikely to be a definitive figure on how many people have had it

Without knowing that, it is not possible to say for sure how many people died as a percentage of those who were infected. The ‘survival rates’ as listed above are therefore also impossible to gauge.

Case fatality rate

The figure you’re more likely to hear is the case fatality rate. This is the percentage of people who have died and who were also a confirmed case of Covid-19. 

In Ireland as of Tuesday, the case fatality rate is 6.44%. That is 1,561 deaths from from 24,251 cases. 

This matches the global fatality rate, as per Johns Hopkins University, which is at 6.56% after 5 million confirmed cases. 

coronavirus-cfr Source: ourworldindata.org

Our World in Data has used this same calculation to compare fatality rates in different around the world, even though its researchers from the University of Oxford and the Global Change Data Lab admit that the measure has its limitations. 

To take four other countries by way of comparison with Ireland, we can see that the US also has a case fatality rate of 6%, Sweden is at about 12%, the UK is above 14% and France is approaching 20%. 

Again though, these figures are hugely dependant on the amount of testing in a country. If a county has tested fewer people, it will have fewer confirmed cases and thus the case fatality rate is likely to be higher.

Does that mean that it is impossible to estimate a ‘survival rate’?

One of the things we must remember about Covid-19 is that it’s a new disease that health experts have been monitoring for less than five months. So we are still learning about the virus and the impact it is having on the human population. 

So while in the fullness of time we might be in a better position to judge a ‘survival rate’ for the virus, we’re not there yet. 

Speaking to the US Congress in March, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said he estimated the overall death at somewhere around 1%. This is inclusive of all those who have had the virus, including those who have not been tested. 

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

This would make Covid-19 ten times more lethal than the seasonal flu, which has a fatality rate of about 0.1%. By way of another comparison, the 2009 swine flu pandemic was estimated to be fatal in around 0.02% of cases. 

A study by the Imperial College London, based on 70,000 cases in China, has put the death rate for confirmed cases of Covid-19 there at 1.38%. In the same article, researchers estimated the overall death rate, including unconfirmed cases, at 0.66%. 

Again though, that is just an estimation because we don’t have sufficient knowledge of spread of the virus yet to be sure. 

Regardless, these estimations do not match the ‘survival rates’ listed in the original claim, which are all above 99.9%. The country-by-country figures are also clearly not accurate because individual countries have not made such estimations themselves.  

********

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

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

Read next:

COMMENTS (118)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel