Social media posts that cast doubt on the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland misleadingly suggest the only “actual deaths” from COVID-19 were among people who only had COVID-19 listed as the cause of death on their death certificates.
A post made on Twitter on Feb. 13 (here) reads: “#FOI returned from 6 no. @NHSuk boards in #Scotland. Only 94 deaths directly from #Covid19 from a population of 2 MILLION people. Further FOI returns to follow. Based on this data, the number of deaths directly (solely) from Covid in Flag of Scotland will be 250-300. Shine a light on this!”
The tweet linked a list of freedom of information (FOI) requests asking questions such as: ‘what is the number of patients in A&A hospitals have died only from COVID’ (here), what is the ‘number of recorded deaths solely down to COVID-19’ (here) and deaths where ‘COVID was listed as the sole cause of death’ (here).
As the tweet states, only six NHS Boards in Scotland responded to the FOI. This means the ‘94 deaths’ figure is missing data from more than half of the boards contacted and cannot be presented as a complete figure or used to make predictions.
The table also labels the figures provided in response to the FOIs as “actual deaths from COVID-19 in 2020” (here). However, the idea that those who died solely of COVID-19 are the only people who ‘actually’ died of COVID-19 is misleading.
As the fact-checkers Full Fact pointed out last year, this logic could be interpreted as saying that only patients with no pre-existing conditions died from the novel coronavirus, which is incorrect (here).
The issue relates to comorbidity, the existence of two or more conditions or illnesses in a patient. This does not exclude COVID-19, but combines it with other illnesses, often triggered by the new coronavirus itself.
Debunking a similar claim from 2020 that only 6% of COVID-related deaths in the US “actually died” from COVID, Dr. Maja Artandi, medical director of the Stanford CROWN Clinic for COVID-19 patients (here), told Reuters via email that it was “not a big surprise” most COVID-19 deaths involved other conditions.
This is because “patients who have a comorbidity such as diabetes, hypertension or obesity have a higher risk of getting seriously ill and dying from COVID-19.” The numbers are also consistent with the fact that the novel coronavirus “can cause severe damage to the organs in the body such as the lungs, which then leads to respiratory failure and death.”
The key thing to understand, Dr. Artandi said, is that “if they had not gotten the infection…they would still be alive.” (here).
Official government data as of Feb. 16 registered 6,764 deaths in Scotland following a positive test. And second measure of mortality – deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate either as an underlying cause or as a contributing factor – stands at – and 8,726 (here , explained bit.ly/3b43qfy).
Missing context. An incomplete set of figures obtained through FOI requests presents deaths ‘solely’ from COVID-19 as the only ‘real’ deaths from the novel coronavirus. However, most COVID-19 deaths involve complications caused by the infection and/or pre-existing conditions that made an individual more vulnerable to the disease, but COVID-19 still played a role in their death.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .