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FactFind: No, it's not correct to say just 100 people have died from Covid-19 in Ireland

A widely shared Facebook video incorrectly claims that 100 people, not 1,777, have died from the virus in Ireland.

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A VIDEO THAT has been widely shared in the last 24 hours claims just 100 people have died from Covid-19 in Ireland.

The video, which was recorded live outside Government Buildings in Dublin last night, has been viewed around 400,000 times, shared 13,000 times and commented on almost 4,000 times to date.

Ben Gilroy, an anti-government campaigner who features in the video, shared it on his Facebook page.

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.

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.

Screenshot 2020-09-08 at 10.42.39 Source: HPSC

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.

Screenshot 2020-09-08 at 14.20.38 Ben Gilroy in a still from the video. Source: Facebook

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 HPSC figures.

‘Their lives matter’ 

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.”

QAnon 

Similar claims about Covid-19 death statistics have been made in several other countries including the US – something referenced in the video itself. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently said it has been inundated with queries about false rumours that the official tally of Covid-19 deaths in the US is only 6% of the reported figure of about 185,000.

The claim, being promoted by supporters of QAnon conspiracies, again extrapolates the percentage of deaths where people had no underlying health conditions.

One such post that was retweeted by US President Trump was removed by Twitter for breaching its guidelines.

As outlined by BBC News here, it’s correct to state that of all the death certificates in the US that mention Covid-19, only 6% mention no other illnesses.

However, 92% of deaths clearly state Covid-19 as the underlying cause of death. So while a patient may have had conditions such as lung problems or diabetes, Covid-19 was listed as the primary cause of death.

Deaths related to the virus in Ireland are recorded in a similar way.

How are Covid-19 deaths recorded in Ireland?

In May – when claims about the number of Covid-19 deaths in Ireland being inflated were also being shared online - TheJournal.ie published a breakdown of how deaths are counted here

At the time, the Department of Health and the HSE clarified how deaths from Covid-19 – be they confirmed, probable or possible – are categorised.

A spokesperson for the department said Ireland “has sought to follow international guidance and advice” from bodies such as the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) in relation to counting deaths.

They noted that, from the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, Ireland has “reported all deaths in laboratory confirmed cases of Covid-19, in both hospital and community settings, unlike many other countries which have reported deaths in hospitalised cases only”.

shutterstock_1066228688 (2) File photo Source: Shutterstock/RossHelen

The spokesperson told us that the reporting of Covid-19 deaths was extended in mid-April to include deaths in probable Covid-19 cases, as well as confirmed cases, in line with updated guidance issued by the WHO earlier this year. 

This guidance states 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.”

Death certificates 

The document adds that Covid-19 “should be recorded on the medical certificate of cause of death for ALL decedents (deceased people) 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.

Screenshot 2020-05-20 at 13.00.07 Source: WHO

The guidelines note there is “increasing evidence that people with existing chronic conditions or compromised immune systems due to disability are at higher risk of death due to COVID-19″.

The document adds that if the person who died had a non-communicable disease such as coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or diabetes, this should also be reported on their death certificate.

The Department of Health said that, in following the WHO’s guidance, it has “sought to provide the fullest and most accurate picture possible of the impact of Covid-19″.

Probable or possible Covid-19 deaths 

Of the 1,777 deaths reported to date in Ireland, 1,519 are confirmed, 99 are probable and 159 are possible.

When asked how Covid-19 deaths are recorded, a spokesperson for the HSE previously told TheJournal.ie: “In cases where an individual who has had a positive Covid-19 test before or after death, this will be notified to the national surveillance system and reported by HPSC as a death in a confirmed Covid-19 case.”

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They added that where the treating doctor has “a strong clinical suspicion” the patient had Covid-19 “due to the circumstances” and “the nature of the illness” but where the person has tested negative for the virus, or not been tested at all, these deaths will be notified to the national surveillance system and reported by the HPSC as a death in a “probable/possible Covid-19 case”.

If it is later confirmed that the patient in question did not have the virus, their death is removed from the official figures.

When announcing the latest figures in its daily press release, the Department of Health sometimes includes the following line: “Validation of data at the HPSC has resulted in the denotification of x death(s).” This is generally a low number and indicates that a death previously listed as being caused or probably caused by Covid-19 was later found to be incorrectly categorised.

The HSE spokesperson said there are “different reasons as to why Covid-19 deaths would be denotified, for example, test results pending which are subsequently negative or validation of data which may identify duplicate entries”.

“The Computerised Infectious Disease Reporting (CIDR) surveillance system to which deaths are reported is a live dynamic system and is constantly being validated and updated,” they added.

Hiqa report 

A report published by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) in July found there was a 13% increase in deaths in Ireland between March and June, but Covid-19 deaths may have been slightly overestimated.

The report examined the number of excess deaths that occured over a three-month period during the pandemic. The authors of the study said that despite finding a “slight overestimate” in the Covid-19 figures compared to the excess deaths, the official tally in Ireland is “likely to be an accurate estimate” of Covid’s fatality rate.

The document, which can be read here, assessed the number of deaths that occurred in Ireland from 11 March to 16 June, relative to the expected number of deaths, using data from the death notices website RIP.ie.

There were about 1,100 to 1,200 more deaths than would be expected based on historical patterns – a 13% increase between 11 March and 16 June, the report notes.

Excess deaths peaked by 33% over a six-week period from 25 March to 5 May. During this period, there was an increase of 1,200 deaths from expected figures, with 1,332 Covid-19-related deaths officially reported.

Hiqa’s Chief Scientist, Dr Conor Teljeur, said the official figure at the time of 1,709 deaths, may have been a slight overestimate but was likely accurate. 

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One on 3 July, said: “It may be a slight overestimate, but it is likely to be an accurate estimate. Excess mortality, it has a limitation that doesn’t necessarily fully state the burden of Covid-19 on mortality.

“So excess mortality is trying to contrast the number of deaths that were observed with the number that were expected. And as some of these people were expected to have died during that period, then they don’t count towards the excess mortality.

“But the reality is, they did die because of Covid-19, and it therefore contributes to the overall mortality and we need to count that correctly.”

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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:

Órla Ryan

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