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Debunked: No, there weren't 'only 717 deaths' in Ireland in July

The figures in question refer to the number of deaths registered for that month so far, not the total number of people who died.

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A NUMBER OF social media posts being shared in recent days incorrectly claim that a total of 717 people died in Ireland in July.

A table of figures from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP), which has been posted by several Twitter users and retweeted hundreds of times, shows that 717 deaths were registered in Ireland in July 2020, while over 2,000 deaths were registered in each July of the past five years.

The figures in the table indicate the number of deaths that occurred in each month *and* have been registered. For example, the July 2020 number is likely to increase as people who were bereaved that month still have time to register the death.

In Ireland people are legally obliged to register deaths within three months of when they occur.

The number of deaths registered in Ireland from January to July, 2015 to 2020:

Screenshot 2020-09-11 at 10.12.17 (1) (1)

These figures do not show the correct number of people who died in July, rather the number of deaths which occurred that month and have been registered to date. 

Some of the posts on social media are using these figures to incorrectly claim that much fewer people are dying in Ireland recently and that the number of Covid-19 deaths are being inflated.

The total number of people with Covid-19 who have died in Ireland to date is 1,781.

When asked to clarify the figures, a spokesperson for the DEASP explained the General Register Office (GRO) compiles data on death registrations and provides this information to members of the public upon request.

The spokesperson said the figures show registered deaths only and “do not represent the number of deaths which have actually occurred”.

“This information is updated on a monthly basis and any figures given are liable to change as more deaths are registered, particularly for deaths occurring in 2020 and specifically in the 3 months immediately preceding the month in which the information is provided.”

Explaining how the process works, the DEASP’s spokesperson noted the registration of deaths is “a paper-based process and is dependent on a relative, or other qualified informant, providing the necessary details and forms to a registrar”.

“Part 5 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 places a duty on a relative to register the death within three months of the death occurring. Not all deaths are registered immediately and some deaths, including those resulting from COVID-19, are required to be reported to a coroner before a death can be registered,” they noted in a statement to TheJournal.ie.

The spokesperson said that around 80% of deaths are registered within three months of the death occurring, meaning that approximately 20% of deaths take longer to be officially notified. Therefore, they said, the figures provided by the GRO “do not reflect the number of deaths which have actually occurred”.

It should be noted that many people have experienced delays in registering the death of a loved one in recent months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

CSO figures

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) collects data on the number of deaths in Ireland. Figures for the second quarter of this year are still being finalised, however figures for previous quarters show the number of deaths in Ireland has been relatively stable over the last five years.

The number of deaths in Ireland per quarter from 2015 to 2020 (some are provisional and may change slightly):

Screenshot 2020-09-11 at 16.05.24

In July, the CSO published an experimental analysis that monitored trends in mortality, using the website www.RIP.ie, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Commenting at the time, statistician John Flanagan said the analysis, conducted for October 2019 to June 2020, showed some important trends.

“Most notable is the increase in death notices in April which stands in contrast with previous years. Numbers of deaths notices increased to 3,502 in April from 2,861 in March. In comparison the average number of deaths for April for the years 2013-2017 was approximately 2,500.

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“Based on the analysis of death notices, the estimate for excess mortality to 30 June 2020 is 1,072. This assumes that, in the absence of COVID-19 deaths, mortality would have followed a trajectory similar to previous years. At this stage, this is a speculative estimate based on experimental data.

“It is important to put this figure of 1,072 [excess] deaths within the context of around 30,000 deaths per year. It is possible that there will be lower mortality levels later in the year given the concentration of these deaths in nursing homes and the older population.”

He added that the analysis “can only give an indication of excess mortality at a point in time” and data for the full year of 2020 would be required to provide a more definitive picture of excess mortality.

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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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