Counting The Dead

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Former World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Professor Karol Sikora

This afternoon.

Former World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Professor Karol Sikora has claimed many health practitioners in Britain have been putting Covid-19 down as the cause of death if there has been “any hint” that the virus played a part.

The NHS has reported that over 41,000 people have died in hospitals due to the pandemic and Prof Sikora said this figure could in fact be much less as many are marking it down without proof it was the main cause.

He said the UK’s system of recording deaths caused by Covid-19 was different to places such as Germany. In Germany Covid-19 can only be recorded as the cause of death when the end-of-life care team certifies that this was the case.

“It could end up that more people have died because of lack of medical care directly caused by the unavailability of it, because its facilities have been taken over for Covid.

“If we look at the numbers, how many people have really died from Covid that wouldn’t be dead at the end of the year?

“The numbers vary enormously. The current ONS data suggests 60,000 people have died from Covid. I’m sure that’s not really the case, it’s because of the counting.”

Ireland, anyone?

Coronavirus deaths ‘may be less than half official toll – as docs wrongly mark certificates’, says ex-WHO chief (The Sun)

Prof Karol Sikora: Covid-19 death toll may be less than half of what has been recorded (Telegraph)

Pic: Medscape

 

12 thoughts on “Counting The Dead

  1. Ragamuffin

    Presumably there is bound to be variation from country to country in how they record a death, so yes it’s hard to compare death cert data between Germany and UK for example. But if you look at the excess mortality data it’s hard to deny that UK, Spain, Belgium, France etc are not all well above the normal range for this time of year. Really interesting graphs from European Mortality Monitoring Activity in Denmark available here https://www.euromomo.eu/graphs-and-maps/ (note: they say the z scores for Ireland are not fully up to date due to delays in HSPC).

    Also this argument really annoys me “If we look at the numbers, how many people have really died from Covid that wouldn’t be dead at the end of the year?”. It’s basically saying “your granny was going to die next winter anyway, so stop moaning that you missed out on those 9 months with her”. It’s the way a sociopath would analyse a situation TBH, totally devoid of human empathy.

    And finally, on his point that: “It could end up that more people have died because of lack of medical care directly caused by the unavailability of it, because its facilities have been taken over for Covid”. Well then yes these would be Covid related deaths, in a similar way that many victims of war actually die of disease/ famine, rather than bombs/ bullets.

    1. f_lawless

      I don’t think your war analogy is very helpful in terms of trying to gauge the true lethality of the virus – which is a key part of understanding the whole phenomenon. It’s vital to draw a distinction between the virus itself and the responses to the virus. We need to try and gain as much clarity as possible on how effective and proportionate – or disproportionate – government responses have been in order to learn from what happened.

      This is worth considering – from the British Medical Journal:
      https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1931

      :’ “Staggering number” of extra deaths in community is not explained by covid-19 ‘

      Only a third of the excess deaths seen in the community in England and Wales can be explained by covid-19, new data have shown ‘

    1. alickdouglas

      Gosh. Colourful is an understatement… As pointed out by ragamuffin, he was chief of the WHO Cancer program for about a year from 1997. Never send a cancer epidemiologist to do an infectious disease epidemiologist’s job (and vice versa).

      The fact remains that the excess death rate in the UK for the COVID period is mind-boggling. Right there you have an extremely strong indication that the physicians certifying the deaths as SARS-CoV are correct. The torygraph clutching at straws to weaken informed criticism of the government response.

      1. f_lawless

        I’m a bit confused, are you saying that only epidemiologists are qualified to speak with any authority on how deaths are registered in the UK? That doesn’t seem to make sense on the face of it.

        Also, with the profile name and photo of a lesser known Tory Prime Minister I would have thought the Torygraph was up your alley ;)

  2. alickdouglas

    No, not at all, but he’s a cancer specialist, not an infectious diseases (and indeed, I mis-spoke, he doesn’t seem to have any notable background in epidemiology). His point that death certificates do not necessarily reflect the *actual* cause of death has some validity, but well-known to physicians and epidemiologists, and heavily covered in epi textbooks and courses.
    More importantly however his assertion that the true death rate in the UK due to COVID is probably substantially lower than current estimates doesn’t hold up to scrutiny: the excess deaths in the UK during the pandemic period are enormous, and of a magnitude in line with other territories most heavily impacted by COVID (Italy, Spain and others). Nor does the more anecdotal peak of incidence of COVID coinciding with the peak in mortality in nursing homes support his suggestion (I’m aware of one nursing home that lost 11/33 residents in a short period of time at the peak of COVID incidence).

    And of course the Torygraph wasn’t like this IN MY DAY. Not since that ruffian Conrad Black took it over.

    1. f_lawless

      I wonder what you make of that article in the British Medical JournalI that I linked to in another comment above?
      https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1931
      Title:’ “Staggering number” of extra deaths in community is not explained by covid-19 ‘

      Sub title: Only a third of the excess deaths seen in the community in England and Wales can be explained by covid-19, new data have shown ‘

      Isn’t that an indication that the response to the virus may have led to a high number number of deaths separate to those who died with/from the virus?

      Also this article from early May is worth considering . It details how the UK Coronavirus Act 2020 has had significant implications for the registration of deaths and the accuracy of ONS data in relation to COVID 19. It’s well referenced with various links to government websites

      https://off-guardian.org/2020/05/05/covid-19-is-a-statistical-nonsense/

      1. alickdouglas

        Nothing but respect for David Spiegelhalter, and if you could only listen to one person about COVID, for me it would be him (he admits himself he’s not perfect but has the decency to use Twitter to draw attention to his mistakes). Note however the difference in what he said vs. what Sikora said: Sikora stated that the true burden of COVID deaths were going to be half of what is currently estimated. Spiegelhalter states that the cause of death needs urgent attention. It’s not obvious from this article, but Spiegelhalter was also highly critical of the fact that COVID deaths in care homes were not registered as COVID deaths because of lack of testing (hence some other commentaries he has about shifting the burden into the commnity). Spiegelhalter believes in data-driven approaches to health improvement and interrogating data in a meaningful manner to guide policy. Sikora preaches ‘common sense’ approaches that largely ignore data. Spiegelhalter’s record is one of encouraging people to understand statistics and risk, and how they can be misused, Sikora’s is one that he’s an expert and you should jolly well listen to him and he misuses statistics when it suits him. Neither of them support the lockdown in the way it was implemented, but Sikora is an apologist for the neoliberal driven agenda of deconstructing the UK’s public health service, and Spiegelhalter is not.

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