We need to have a conversation on COVID statistics with Boris, Lord Sumption and the BBC

The context is Boris Johnson’s apparent view at one stage of the pandemic (and may still be) that the majority who died would have died soon anyway and that the over 80’s aren’t worth crashing the economy for.

Fact: the life expectancy of an 80 year old man is 9 years and for a woman 10 years. After surviving another five years i.e. for an 85 year old man, life expectancy hasn’t reduced by five years to three, it is actually double that at 6 years and for a woman 7.

Boris Johnson is 57 so he should expect to reach 87, not as old as an 80 year old who has already survived the perils of the sixties and seventies.

On Tuesday’s BBC Today Programme the right wing libertarian (and old Etonian) Lord Sumption was interviewed on this subject but his erroneous statements on Covid statistics were not challenged during the interview.

Others did challenge them vigorously and the BBC did subject them to their own fact check on Wednesday.

In case there is any doubt amongst Owl’s readership here is the fact check on the interview.

fullfact.org  20 July 2021

What was claimed in the Lord Sumption interview

No more than 100,000 people have died of Covid in the UK.

Our verdict

Incorrect. So far, 124,082 deaths have been recorded in England and Wales alone, where Covid itself was the underlying cause.

The virus has not killed over 100,000 people. What has happened is that a very large number of people have died with Covid, but not necessarily of Covid. The definition is anybody who has died within 28 days of a positive test is treated as a Covid death.

The former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption made several mistakes with Covid-19 data when talking about the disease on the Today programme this morning.

More than 100,000 people have died “of” Covid

First of all, he said that the virus had not killed more than 100,000 people, because many of the deaths recorded may have been people who were infected with Covid, but died for other reasons.

This is not true. The daily data on the number of people who have died after a positive test does include some people who died for other reasons. However, we also have data from death certificates, which records whether or not Covid itself was the “underlying cause”.

This shows that up to 2 July this year, 124,082 people died with Covid as the underlying cause of death in England and Wales alone.

On average, people who die of Covid lose about a decade of life

Lord Sumption went on to say that the people who died of Covid would soon have died anyway. He said: “At the age which they had reached, they would probably have died within a year after, as even Professor Ferguson has I think admitted.”  [1.19.00]

This is not supported by the evidence.

The mention of Professor Ferguson seems to be a reference to the government’s former scientific advisor’s comments before the Science and Technology Select Committee on 25 March 2020, when he said that the proportion of people dying of Covid in 2020 who would have died that year anyway “might be as much as half to two thirds of the deaths we are seeing from COVID-19”.

In other words, he was talking at a very early stage of the pandemic about what might be seen by the end of the year, not stating a fact, or predicting what the facts would be.

Research suggests that people dying of Covid lost far more than a year of life—about a decade on average. We have written about this in detail before. 

Thousands of people without comorbidities have died of Covid

Lord Sumption also said: “The number of people who have died who are not in highly vulnerable groups who have died without a sufficiently serious comorbidity to appear on the death certificate is very small. It’s a matter of hundreds and not thousands.” [1.19.42]

This is not true either. It seems that Lord Sumption is talking about the number of death certificates that mention Covid as the underlying cause but do not mention any pre-existing medical condition.

There were 15,883 of these deaths in England and Wales alone, up to the end of March 2021. All of them had Covid as the underlying cause.

If you added all the deaths in Scotland and Northern Ireland too, the total would be higher.

One thought on “We need to have a conversation on COVID statistics with Boris, Lord Sumption and the BBC

  1. I’d first like to thank you for all of your postings that I look forward to and enjoy. Much appreciated.
    Long before the pandemic event, I discussed and promoted independent thought based on fundamental principles and research. Not only democratic but our sacred duty. I was, and continue to be, alarmed if some claim ‘authority.’ Fact-checkers can be a useful start to any investigation as long as we are mindful that they don’t operate in a vacuum – none of us do – and we all bend our knee to power. I enclose an essay from February 2020 that I hope is useful.

    If I were more organised, I’d be in a better position to address some of the points in the Full Facts article. However, I do remember being alarmed at the medical aspects of the Coronavirus Act 2020 – the death certification, diagnosis, suspension of post mortems and coroners inquiries (after Shipman and Dame Janet Smith’s Report!). A curtailment of medical investigation might be justifiable in the short term if the pandemic was serious. However, it’s no longer a short term, and, in addition, these revolutionary changes occurred around the time that CV-19 was downgraded from an HCID – March 2020.
    However, being introduced to the UN’s Agenda 21/30 – agreed by most of the world’s countries – and later to the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” and “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” which have obviously ‘entranced’ the leaders of the G7 and the antipodes, then the financial and political exploitation of this virus makes sense.
    Thanks again.
    Kindest regards,


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