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Could UK Covid-19 toll be lower? Govt launches probe

Jul 18, 2020 21:59 IST

PTI, London: The UK government has launched an urgent review into its official daily COVID-19 death toll figures amid fears that the data could be inaccurate due to the way it is collated in England.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock asked Public Health England (PHE) to review its analysis after experts warned the number of fatalities could be over-exaggerated by recording each and every positive coronavirus test and failure to assess if the eventual cause of death was directly linked to the deadly virus.

"The Secretary of State [Hancock] has asked PHE to urgently review their estimation of daily death statistics,” the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement.

"Currently the daily deaths measure counts all people who have tested positive for coronavirus and since died, with no cut-off between time of testing and date of death. There have been claims that the lack of cut-off may distort the current daily deaths number. We are therefore pausing the publication of the daily figure while this is resolved," it said.

England's figures are understood to include anyone who has ever tested positive for COVID-19, regardless of whether they died for another reason. This could mean that the UK's coronavirus death toll of over 45,000 may be exaggerated.

"By this PHE definition, no one with Covid in England is allowed to ever recover from their illness. We need correct and accurate statistics so we can really understand the trend – otherwise it's very difficult to know what's going on," said Professor Carl Heneghan from the University of Oxford.

Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE's incident director, said there is no World Health Organisation (WHO) agreed method of counting deaths from COVID-19.

"In England, we count all those that have died who had a positive COVID-19 test at any point, to ensure our data is as complete as possible,” she said.

"We must remember that this is a new and emerging infection and there is increasing evidence of long-term health problems for some of those affected. Whilst this knowledge is growing, now is the right time to review how deaths are calculated," she added.

Experts want a consistent system of recording coronavirus deaths across all regions of the United Kingdom, which would also impact actions required in case of a feared second wave as the country gradually lifts its lockdown restrictions amid falling infection rates.