Social media users have shared posts incorrectly claiming that changes the UK government introduced in August over how it counts COVID-19 deaths are a “scam” to artificially raise figures.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The post, which was uploaded on Jan. 11 and shared over 350 times, showed three screenshots from a UK government blog titled “Behind the headlines: Counting COVID-19 deaths”.

The caption stated: “NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN IF YOU HAVE A POSTIVE TEST WITHIN 60 DAYS IT WILL NOW GO DOWN AS A COVID DEATH ON YOUR DEATH CERTIFICATE IN ENGLAND (SCOTLAND WILL REMAIN WITHIN 28 DAYS STILL)…THIS IS WHAT WILL BE RAMPING THE DEATH FIGURES UP – ARE YOU FEELING SCAMMED YET!! #WAKEUP” (here).

A similar claim was shared on Jan. 12 with the caption: “DEATHS FOR ANY REASON WITHIN 60 DAYS OF POSITIVE TEST. SCAM!”(here).

However, a change made by the government in the way it recorded COVID-19 deaths is not indicative of a scam.

Firstly, the government announced the new indicators on August 12, 2020, so the change in methodology is not related to COVID-19 deaths during the recent surge in cases.

Secondly, the change was made to provide two sets of data for analysis, not to “ramp up” the numbers.

Between April and August 2020, the government in England had been reporting all deaths after a positive test as a coronavirus death.

According to the government blog, this decision was made to ensure COVID-19 related deaths were not underestimated. During this period, other countries in the UK were using different methods to count deaths. Scotland, for instance, had only been counting deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

The government reviewed this in August and decided that all four UK nations would use the same method to count coronavirus deaths.

Government analysts examined all 41,598 COVID-19 deaths reported up to August 3, 2020 and found that 88% of those people had died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test and 96% had died within 60 days of a positive test or had COVID-19 on their death certificate.

Following this information, the government decided to create two measurements.

To monitor the immediate impact of coronavirus cases, it introduced a cut-off of 28 days following a positive test to record coronavirus deaths.

To measure the longer-term burden of COVID-19, it has separately recorded deaths up to 60 days after a positive test, adding to this figure deaths more than 60 days after a positive test if COVID-19 appeared on the death certificate.

This change reduced the total number of coronavirus deaths in England at the time by 5,377, using the 28-day cut off, and 1,668 using the 60-day measure.

All this information is available on the government blog itself (here) and in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) (here).

VERDICT

False. The UK government introduced changes to the way COVID-19 deaths were counted in August 2020. It introduced two cut-off periods of 28 and 60 days following a positive test to register coronavirus deaths, compared with the previous method of counting all deaths after a positive test as a coronavirus death. This change created two sets of data to help the government monitor short and longer term impacts of the virus. The change has nothing to do with the high death rates seen during the surge in cases in December 2020 and January 2021.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .



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