The ONS’s Covid-19 category

After talking to the ONS (by Twitter and e-mail) I’m somewhat clearer now about what they’re doing, and while it’s confusing, it’s not quite as bad as I thought and at least it hasn’t made the respiratory death figures useless.

ONS now has a separate category for Covid-19 deaths, which includes all deaths where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, even if it’s not put down as the main cause of death. Thing is, Covid-19 is a ‘notifiable’ disease, which means that anyone who fills out a death certificate has to note down if the person had Covid-19, or if they even just suspect the person had Covid-19, whatever the person died of. So there will quite a few people who have ‘Covid-19’ written on their death certificate even if they didn’t die of it, and they will go into the Covid-19 death numbers. This means that this category is misleading, and basically useless. Unfortunately, it’s the category that the media is using.

From what I can gather the same thing is happening in the USA, and Italy too.

(I should note that things are different with the flu. It has long been noted by flu researchers that a lot of elderly people die with the flu, but this is not noted on their death certificate, because it’s not considered to be the main cause of death, even though in some of these cases it may have been what finished someone off. So Covid-19 figures aren’t directly comparable to flu death figures, because the former will be inflated in a way that the latter are not.)

‘Covid-19 deaths’ is, then, a most unusual category, it’s not like the other ones. There will be some deaths that are included in this category and in another category, eg. if someone died of a heart attack and they had Covid-19 then they’d be in both lists. I’m assuming that ONS’s other categories aren’t like this.

(You might then worry that ONS is double-counting the overall deaths. They won’t be, though. This Covid-19 category will not be used for that. They don’t just add up all the subsets including this category to get the total death figure, so that’s not something to worry about. There are other things to worry about, but not this.)

Another issue I asked about is, how does the ‘Covid-19 death’ category relate to the respiratory deaths category? The situation is this. It’s neither a subset of respiratory deaths, not additional to it. Basically, it partly overlaps the respiratory deaths. Those Covid-19 deaths which are respiratory deaths get included in the respiratory death stats, the others don’t. The good news about this is that it means that the respiratory death figures are still reliable and useful.

It’s very poor that the ONS does not provide a breakdown of the Covid-19 figures, into, for instance, those who were listed as dying of Covid-19 and those who died with it. (The issues here are actually more complicated than they sound, but still, they could at least do this.) They could also list the number of people in the Covid-19 category who were also in the respiratory deaths category, and the number of respiratory deaths that had Covid-19 as the main cause of death.

It’s very, very poor in general that the ONS has not provided a more detailed and clear explanation of what is going on with the Covid-19 figures (‘disgrace’ might be a more apt word). And of course it’s poor that the national statistics service of an advanced nation cannot manage to do some graphs like my readers have managed to do in their spare time. They’re hard to get useful information out of, and I’m still not even 100% certain that my new understanding is correct. If anyone more knowledgeable than me, or anyone who has managed to have longer discussions with the ONS, wants to weigh in, please comment. I will try them again soon to get further clarification.

Update: I also note that Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine is also complaining about how hard it is to get clarity on these sorts of issues (in general, not just from the ONS). If even they’re struggling, it’s no surprise everyone else, including the media, also is:

Readers of the blog will be aware that we have little trust in the current reported COVID data.  Everywhere we look we cannot get a handle on the essential facts or at times we get 2 completely different answers to the same question. The military historian Sir Basil Liddle Hart would have called this “the fog of a pandemic” or perhaps the “fog of information overload”.

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32 thoughts on “The ONS’s Covid-19 category

  1. “…Readers of the blog will be aware that we have little trust in the current reported COVID data. Everywhere we look we cannot get a handle on the essential facts or at times we get 2 completely different answers to the same question…”

    I think you are perhaps you are being polite. I would assert that the real reason the figures are being tinkered around with and changes in categorisation are due to .gov etc prepping the data in order to cover butts and simply represent the whole epidemic in the future as a catastrophe, when in fact although it is not good, it appears to be little different than previous years in relation to death numbers.

  2. I have sympathy for the ONS: there you are quietly beavering away producing stats that are normally only of interests to the like of actuaries. Then this happens and everyone want numbers, and they want them now, and they don’t know their way around the tables, and don’t have the patience to work through all the accompanying notes… Adding an extra category is not a simple as it may seem, defining ’cause of death’ tricky, statistics meets metaphysics.

  3. It’s always interesting though how government produced “figures” are invariably adjusted in one direct – just like the database of world surface temperatures.

  4. I quite agree the ONS are making a pig’s ear of the Covid-19 death statistics, especially as the deaths “with” figures are reported by the media as deaths “from”, which causes even more panic & hysteria 🙁

    It has occured to me though, might taking the Covid-19 deaths as a % of total deaths, give a rough guide to what % of the population is infected with Covid-19 each week? The proportion calculated would only be an estimate, as Covid-19 death figures include those only suspected of having it, and people could have been infected any time before they died – but it would give something to compare with the theoretical models of spread and fatality rate!

  5. Hector, You are admirably dispassionate in your presentation of the statistical facts as far as they can be discerned. But the motive for the deliberately engineered alarmism ultimately has to be political. I posted a link on Twitter the other day to a video by Dr Shiva Ayyadurai on the Faucci/CCP/Big pharma nexus which was obviously political but backed up with plenty of factual detail. This is another video from a more medical standpoint questioning the identity of the virus, and by extension validity of CV testing. But the interpenetration of medical science with other corporate interests not least government is such that it’s impossible to disentangle fact from propaganda, as reflected in the obscurity in the official statistical data, as if ‘CV’, whatever CV actually means, is the principal cause of death, reinforced by their unqualified dissemination in the media, engendering mass hysteria with most if not all people on the streets going round in masks in fear of mortal contagion:

  6. “This means that this category is misleading, and basically useless. Unfortunately, it’s the category that the media is using.”

    Why is this not being challenged more widely? I find it staggering that this would be allowed to carry on and can only assume there are a significant number of people in these positions who’s interests are served by using the most misleading data.

  7. Now this is interesting. Here is a study that claims we will need to have this lockdown until there is a vaccine. Given this is a crap shoot, there is now way of know if there ever will be a vaccine, you have to wonder why such an idea is not discredited very quickly. I also note the basis for this is a claim that the lockdown in China was the thing that stop the virus there, when any look at the data shows the virus was well in decline before the lockdown started.

    Can I be forgiven for questioning the motives of people who write and then support this?

  8. Yes exactly! He’s a lone voice in the media establishment and as you say almost completely ostracized. There are many serious scientist who are questioning this whole thing, yet they get zero airtime outside the ‘fringe’ media. Your great work asking fundamental questions is completely missing from any mainstream media.

    Is it perhaps Hitchens is an old fashioned journalist, and almost everyone else in that industry is little more than ignorant PR hack?

    The political response to this has been to a large degree been led by the media and public pressure for action.

  9. Yes, I expect that it’s unlikely. Anyone who believes the world should stop until a vaccine is made is bat-soup crazy.

  10. To a devoted reader of SF and horror stories it makes perfect sense.

    “You will remain locked in this cellar at gunpoint until we receive the necessary hypnotic agents to ensure your permanent enslavement”.

    Essentially, we will have “1984” until “Brave New World” becomes feasible.

  11. But in the grossly oversimplified world inhabited by the broad masses (many of them university-educated), all disease is wrong and a breach of human rights. So kindly scientists must rapidly cook up vaccines and cures to make sure no one gets sick ever.

  12. Watching the epidemic bite….

    I am tracking the UK official Total Mortality rates, since these are the only meaningful indicator of what is happening in this country. In the absence of large-scale testing activity the ‘number of infections’ is not a reliable indicator, and deaths due to Covid-19 infection are both estimates, and confounded by the fact that these mainly occur amongst those who are susceptible to respiratory disease, and who already have co-morbidities.

    Amongst such people there is invariably a rise in death rate during the winter months. The advantage of tracking Total Mortality is that it should show if this increase is excessive compared to other winters, and, if so, by how much.

    The disadvantage of tracking this figure is that it is reported a week in arrears, and comprises deaths which, if caused by an infection, presumably started their track a week or so earlier. So the figure describes the situation about a fortnight ago. I still feel that is is a useful balance to the headline figures which are provided to the public with no comparisons.

    PHE has just produced its Week 14 report. This shows increased mortality amongst the 65+ age group in England – though the increase is less than in the small flu epidemic we had at the end of 2019. They note no increase for any group in Wales, N Ireland or Scotland (though the Scottish figures look to be a bit delayed).

    Specifically, PHE says:

    “..In week 13 2020 in England, statistically significant excess mortality by week of death above the upper 2 z-score threshold was seen overall, by age group in the 65+ year olds and sub nationally (all ages) in the North West, East & West Midlands, London and South East regions…”

    This sounds as if everybody is being affected. But their later table clearly shows no increase amongst any age group below 65 years. So I interpret their statement to mean that the increase in 65+ deaths pulls up the Total Deaths to a significant increase on its own, with no contribution from lower ages.

    They also note the several geographic areas which show an increase. There are areas with large cities in them – I suspect that these are where the increase is occurring.

    So, as of last week, Total Mortality figures show an increase in respiratory infection deaths amongst the elderly in England lower than, but broadly in line with the increase we had in Autumn last year, and no major change elsewhere. Let us see what next week’s figures will bring….

  13. Yes because, to paraphrase Thomas Paine, there is no point in administering medical tests to the dead. Except in the unusual circumstances when a post-mortem is called for.

  14. Figure 1 from the All Cause Mortality report is much more instructive. Even the statistically blind can see that something big is happening.

  15. Comment seen elsewhere says that the Grun states that

    Of the 765 new confirmed reported hospital deaths announced today by NHS England, 140 occurred on 8 April while 568 took place between April 1 and April 7.

    How the hell can ‘statistics’ such as those be taken seriously? So actually there were only 140 deaths yesterday and the others were spread out over 8 days. Words fail me!

    Any thoughts Hector?????

  16. So. Government have just said they think only 10% of us have been infected. How do they know this?! With no testing of any kind, how do they really know anything about this pandemic?

  17. djc, I saw that earlier today as I have been keeping an eye on CEBM (I know people who them and they’re supposed to be okay). But I haven’t had time to really look at it. Seems unbelievable if true.

  18. Entirely believable. It may take the ONS time to produce the figures but they are in a way the most timely in that, as nothing can be done to settle the deceased affairs or even arrange a funeral without a death certificate, there is every incentive to get the death registered. On the other hand I doubt there is much sense of urgency by NHS admin and as for PHE… I’ve worked with parts of that organisation.

  19. BiG, you’re still stuck in the ways of the normal world that has been suspended until further notice.

    We do actually need that post mortem. Not the whole strip down, just the COVID-19 test, stat. This is too important for subjective assessment.

  20. So, the question every thinking person should be asking is: was the declared pandemic, forced lockdown and economic crisis created on basis of subjective post mortem certificate signed by a doctor who reported symptoms similar to other seasonal diseases, without actually testing the cause?
    Oh. And let’s not forget the scary “scientific” simulation of the death rate.

  21. I think things will become clearer over time simply by looking at total deaths and comparing with the last 10 years within the different age groups. So far (to March 21st) they are within the norm but are sure to escalate over the coming weeks. Then we can compare 2020 with the average of the previous 10 years. Maybe it’s not scientific enough but we will get a fair idea of how many extra deaths are down to COVID-19 ?

  22. Re: Neil Ferguson

    He announced he’d release his infamous model this week on Saturday, has he?

    <blockquote I’d rather take my chances with the disease than live in a police state with a ruined economy. I don’t want my children, who face virtually zero risk from this disease, to have their futures blighted

    As for “Experts” and MSM: Shutdown needed until Vaccine developed, we must save every life

    – A close look at the data suggests the peak of the epidemic in New York may have already passed

    USA “Experts” saying shutdown may last 18 months or longer until vaccine created, or up to 1 million might die

    This is nuts, 1 million is ~0.25% of USA population, the cost of 2 month let alone 18 month shutdown does not merit it

    A cost: Commercial burglaries are up 75 percent in New York City since COVID-19 lockdown

    …and Models are. . . . . Sh1t – Remember this when the “experts” models tell you that your farts are causing global warming

    – Americans deserve objective metrics for restarting the country

    We need to make sure this kind of thing never happens again. Should be “we the people” that decides something like this not a few people more worried about personal and political agendas than the country

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