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Thousands of Covid-19 deaths ‘to be wiped off the government’s official toll’ after counting fiasco

Thousands of coronavirus deaths ‘will be wiped off the government’s official toll’ after urgent review into counting fiasco that included people who had recovered and died of other causes in the toll

  • Public Health England was miscounting coronavirus death, official review found
  • Counted victims if they died from any cause months later after beating disease
  • Could see up to 4,000 deaths removed from overall death toll, or 10 per cent 

Thousands of coronavirus deaths are going to be wiped from the government’s official count, it was claimed today.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last month ordered an urgent review into how daily death counts are calculated in England because of a ‘statistical flaw’.

Academics found a glitch in Public Health England’s methods that meant ministers counted victims as anyone who died after ever testing positive for Covid-19 – even if they were hit by a bus after beating the disease months later.

It would’ve meant that, technically, no-one could ever recover from the virus and all 265,000 of the country’s confirmed patients would eventually have had their deaths attributed to the disease. 

The blunder could see up to 4,000 deaths removed from England’s official toll of 41,686. 

Mr Hancock will now bring the figures in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland, which only attribute deaths to Covid-19 if it occurs within a month of their diagnosis. 

The Health Secretary is expected to announce the new measurement by the end of the week following the two-week review into the testing fiasco. 

The statistical flaw was uncovered by Oxford University’s Professor Carl Heneghan and Dr Yoon Loke, from the University of East Anglia.

Professor Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the prestigious university, told the Sun: ‘It is a sensible decision. There is no point attributing deaths to Covid 28 days after infection.

The statistical flaw was uncovered by Oxford University's Professor Carl Heneghan

The statistical flaw was uncovered by Oxford University’s Professor Carl Heneghan 

‘All it does is muddy the water. While deaths are falling in Scotland, PHE data suggests matters are worse in England.

‘But if it’s someone who picked up the virus in a care home in March and recovered, and last week died of a heart attack, what does that actually tell us?’

Professor Heneghan said the 28 day measure employed by the rest of the UK allowed experts to compare the outbreak on previous months with more precision, which helps inform policymakers about what steps need to be taken. 

He added: ‘If deaths are going down, great. And if they are up, then we need to act. But at the moment, the figures are just confusing.’

The Office for National Statistics, another Government agency, also records Covid-19 deaths, and is considered the most reliable source. 

Its calculations are based on death certificates with Covid-19 as a suspected contributor. 


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