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.
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.
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.