The Anxious Arithmetic of COVID Alarmism

How deadly is COVID in cutting lifespans? Reported deaths from COVID are untrustworthy and provide a poor guide to resolving this question. It is more instructive to focus on total deaths. Has the number of deaths jumped significantly during the period since COVID emerged?

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) has recently released mortality statistics for England and Wales for the whole year 2020. I will use the English component of this data; the Welsh component follows a similar pattern.

Using the aged-standardised measure (produced since 2001), deaths in England in 2020 were 1037.3 per 100,000 people. This compares with 918.6 in 2019. That represents an increase of 13 per cent (rounded). On its face, that is most definitely significant. However, 2019 was an uncommonly light year for deaths.

The ONS employs a (sometimes) misleading indicator by comparing deaths in any one year with the average of deaths in the preceding five years. This might work okay in most times but not when the number of deaths in one year rises, in part, to make up for a less-than normal number of deaths in the preceding year. When, more specifically, an unusually high number of old people succumb to respiratory illnesses in one year, having survived in greater numbers than usual in the preceding year.

In these circumstances it is better to average the two years (in this case 2019 and 2020) and compare this figure with the average of the previous five years. This produces comparative numbers of 978 versus 962. This represents an increase of 2 per cent. The numbers are much closer. Correspondingly, the evidence of COVID significantly bumping up the number of deaths is less convincing. Moreover, if the average of the years 2019 and 2020 is compared with the average of the previous ten years (rather than five) the death rates are the same at 978 per 100,000 people.

Conclusion: The number of deaths in England in 2020 does not provide compelling evidence of a plague of any great proportions. Counter argument: deaths were kept down by lockdowns, travel restrictions, social distancing, masks, hand-sanitizing, testing and contact tracing. Absent these protective measures, deaths would have been much higher.

The validity of this argument can be tested by cross-country analysis once the fog of the pandemic has cleared. An example of this kind of analysis, across the fifty US states, was recently published by the Mises Institute. It showed zero correlation between an index reflecting the extent of restrictions in each state and COVID deaths. I can’t comment on the accuracy of the analysis but, as it stands, it offers no comfort at all to those favouring onerous lockdowns.

It will be interesting to see whether any serious efforts are made to uncover the truth. The powers that be in governments, in the medical profession and in the media are (mostly) invested in the virulence of the pandemic and the absolute need for the panoply of protective measures which have been applied in an effort to curb the spread of infections. It will be difficult for them to ever give credence to evidence showing that they were wrong and, thus, subjected people to unnecessary hardships.

Think of climate change for an analogy. Even if global cooling were to soon emerge, as some think, it will be roundly denied by alarmists, even as icicles drip from their noses.

Incidentally, and finally, apropos the vaccination campaign. So far as I’m aware, since vaccines were invented, this is the first time that whole populations will be coerced into being jabbed in circumstances where it appears that over ninety-nine percent of people who contract the virus are at no material risk of death or of needing intensive care. To wit, Worldometer reports, as at February 25, 21,875,800 active COVID cases worldwide with only 91,841 or 0.4 per cent serious or critical.

Put together the very low risk of getting seriously sick with the evidence that those at risk can be fairly well identified. Now that just has to be a clue, even for those who credulously believe in the wisdom of government, as to why lots of people don’t want, and see no need, to have the jab — including, as it happens, me. But, of course, there will be no real choice; unless, that is, you choose to forage for food and live alone in a cave.

  • Stephen Due

    “It will be interesting to see whether any serious efforts are made to uncover the truth.” I think the truth – namely that the disease caused by this virus at a population level is no worse than seasonal influenza – has been known since at least March last year. The correct course of action (i.e. do not impose lockdowns but offer special protections to the elderly) is the opposite of what has been done in most places. Coercion is not the appropriate response to pandemics. Locking down an entire population is utterly futile and destructive. The economic damage, social disruption, personal ruination and health costs of the lockdowns are so vast and so horrendous that it is difficult to imagine how a proper assessment can remain buried for long. It would be nice to think that the incompetent bunglers responsible for closing schools and a host of other useless draconian measures would be held accountable. But of course there are lot people, including the fear-mongers in the media, who have a vested interest in continuing to deceive the public.

  • George Lloyd


    I did a similar exercise a few days ago with the goal of satisfying myself that COVID had made little difference to the number of deaths. However, my results (without the benefit of your detailed analysis) showed that total deaths in England and Wales in 2020 exceeded each of the preceding 5 years by between 14% and 17% or, on average 81,500 deaths,

    This led me to the conclusion that I was wrong and that COVID had a truly significant impact on total deaths in England and Wales.

    My analysis was simpler than yours and did not take into account the changing population year on year, because that would only make a minor difference over 5 years. In addition, I chose to only examine the gross death figures.

    My data came from the annual records published by the ONS “Deaths registered weekly in England and Wales” and I didn’t bother separating Wales and England.

    For each annual data set I downloaded the Excel file, went to page titled “Weekly Figures YYYY” and copied the “Total deaths All Ages” line into a spreadsheet. I repeated this for all years 2015 to 2020.

    Total deaths all ages for 2020 added to 614,114. For the five previous years the total deaths all ages added to:
    2019 527,234
    2018 539,340
    2017 533,125
    2016 524,474
    2015 539,007

    I was surprised by the result of my crude calculation and concluded that COVID had truly made a difference in the UK and was likely to have done so in other parts of the world where the pandemic was mismanaged as effectively as in the UK.

    I am happy to send my calculations to you.

  • Peter Smith

    George, I don’t know why the ONS figures would differ from one measure to another. My adding up for 2020 gives 603 by the way, but I could be wrong and it doesn’t make much difference. If you average 603 and 527 and compare the answer with the average of the previous four years you have listed (2018/2015) you get a six per cent increase. That is more significant than the two percent I calculate for the age-standardised figures (2020/2019 versus 2018/2014) – which, by the way, are much easier to extract. But why use figures other than those standardised for age? Nevertheless, the old adage about statistics might be apt.

  • Peter Smith

    Me again George, you might read Steve Waterson in today’s Australian on the same set of stats. To wit: “It shows a rate of 1043 deaths per 100,000 population, ahead of of 2019’s number of 925…the rate has been higher before, most recently in 2008, when I don’t believe the world shut down…and higher in every single year before 2008…” Waterson is seemingly using the same data as I did (per 100,000 people); though, inexplicably, when I say 1037 he says 1043; when I say 919 he says 925. Maybe he is using data not age adjusted. It would make little difference to the overall result which would match the one I reported in my post.


    The ‘anxious arithmetic’ plays an important part in the coercion cycle. Those miscreants who unleashed the
    SARS-CoV-2 virus are now flogging the ‘cure’ and will use a variety of methods to sweet talk or coerce the world population to be guinea pigs in the worlds biggest medical experiment.

  • rod.stuart

    Somewhere I stumbled across the huge drop in deaths in 2020 from TB, influenza, and pneumonia. They are aproximately the same as the supposed number of “covid” deaths.

  • rod.stuart

    This will probably be of interst of all interested in this topic.

  • Carlos

    Peter, great minds think alike. I recently asked friends, family and colleagues to take the ‘Covid challenge’. I put the ONS death rate data for England (2001 – 2020) into a simple table. I then scrambled the data and hid the years. Contestants had to pick 2020 from the possible 20 years. Should have been easy, right? Well everyone went either high (intuitively) or low (counterintuitively). No one thought to bet on the average. It blew their minds that 2020 was slightly lower than the 20 year average, true believers accused me of manipulating the data, this kind of proves my point.

  • Peter Smith

    Interesting Carlos. I might do that.

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