25 January 2022

Have only 17,000 people ‘really’ died from Covid? 

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Have only 17,000 people really died from Covid in the UK?

You might reach that conclusion from watching a video entitled ‘Freedom of Information revelation’ from retired nurse and YouTube sensation Dr John Campbell. The clip has already racked up more than 1.4m views and was approvingly shared by former Brexit Secretary David Davis yesterday evening.

‘There’s been no mention of this whatsoever on mainstream media,’ Campbell tells his viewers. ‘It’s surprising that they haven’t picked this up because it’s a huge story for media to cover and they haven’t.’

So what is this ‘huge’ story that the MSM have apparently been ignoring?

Well, it originates from a tightly worded Freedom of Information request asking the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the number of people for whom ‘Covid is the only cause of death on the death certificate’ – that’s the 17,000 figure Campbell quotes with such apparent bafflement.

And, yes, to the casual observer it certainly sounds low, given that the total Covid death toll for the UK is now well over 150,000.

But, contrary to Campbell’s assertions, it is neither ‘quite profound’ nor ‘really quite surprising’ that a relatively small proportion of Covid fatalities listed Covid as the sole cause of death. Or, to put it another way, it’s totally unsurprising that Covid tends to kill people with existing health conditions.

Since the start of the pandemic it’s been clear that certain groups of people are more vulnerable to Covid. But that absolutely does not mean that most Covid victims were already at death’s door and the virus simply pushed them over the edge. A Covid victim who was obese or had diabetes, for instance, could have expected many more years of life before they contracted the virus. As Dr Susan Oliver explains in this entertaining critique, ‘these people didn’t die of their pre-existing conditions, they died of Covid’.

That is borne out by figures published by the ONS – from whom Campbell got his 17,000 number, remember – which state that ‘Covid-19 is the underlying cause of death in around 92% of deaths where it was mentioned on the death certificate’.

The insinuation that the ‘real’ figure for Covid deaths is actually much lower than the authorities have been letting on is therefore simply nonsense. It’s nothing more than a rehashed version of the ‘with Covid’ meme epidemiology that has been doing the rounds since the pandemic began. Some ‘sceptics’ take this even further and suggest that someone who dies in a car crash after testing positive would count towards the Covid death total – a claim which completely ignores how death certificates are actually filled out.

Campbell’s video may have no statistical or medical value – in fact it’s actively harmful to the understanding of either – but it is an instructive example of how to make dubious ideas sound plausible, and why we should be sceptical about Covid credentialism.

On the plausibility point, Campbell’s avuncular style and clear presentation lends a patina of reasonableness to what is actually a pretty outlandish claim. Witness the way he calmly goes through the figures, methodically underlining numbers, when all he’s really doing is making the same misguided point over and over again using slightly different amounts of black ink. 

His mis-steps are also a fine example of how experts in one field – Campbell’s doctorate is in nursing education – can come unstuck when they start busking in another. A lot of people have ‘Dr’ in front of their name, but it’s always worth checking what their PhD was in before conferring expert status on them.

That cuts both ways, of course. When the Government’s own expert modelling has often proven well wide of the mark, it’s perhaps unsurprising that some people are looking for alternative sources of authority. Likewise, it’s perfectly legitimate to question whether the draconian measures we took to control the virus were worth it, in view of the economic costs, the impact on people’s mental health and the damage done to children’s education.

But if we’re going to have those debates, let’s at least do so on the basis of facts, not a misreading of statistics that only fuels the fire of the most abject conspiracy theorists.

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John Ashmore is Editor of CapX.