We can't say if UK's death toll is highest in Europe, data expert claims

5 May 2020, 18:04

By Seán Hickey

The new ONS numbers giving the UK the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe should not be compared against other countries.

This data expert insisted that new death toll figures for the UK are not comparable to figures from any other country. John Burn Murdoch is senior data-visualisation journalist at the Financial Times and he broke down the new figures from the Office for National Statistics for Shelagh Fogarty.

Beginning with a bombshell, Mr Burn Murdoch told Shelagh that the new figures from the ONS is "not the same number that we're hearing in the press conferences and it is not comparable to any number we're getting from Italy." "We're not making an apples to apples comparison here" he said.

Mr Burn Murdoch stated that the "number we get in pressers is comparable to what we get in Italy" but the new figures that placed us as the highest death toll in Europe is not. He said that the new number is counting deaths " where Covid is mentioned" rather than where coronavirus is confirmed as the cause of death. "It is a broader definition than what is coming out of Italy" he explained.

Shelagh wanted to know if the "only figure that counts is excess death figures"when we're talking about death toll – a number that has not been clear in any nation. Mr Burn Murdoch pointed out that "we do just need to be patient to get excess death figures" not only from the UK, but also other nations. He stated that the "comparable number in Italy is behind ours" and thus we cannot formally compare pandemic reaction between nations.

The data expert insisted that the UK's new figures can't be compared with other nations
The data expert insisted that the UK's new figures can't be compared with other nations. Picture: PA

Shelagh wanted to know what figures are jumping out most at the data-visualisation journalist, to which he announced that "one we should focus on now is looking at the testing data."

"The things we should be really looking at are the percentage of tests coming back positive and compare it to other countries" he said. Mr Burn Mudoch added that although the UK is beginning to do well in testing, we are still "lagging countries like Spain and Italy and seeing more tests coming back positive than these countries."

Assessing the best way forward for the UK, Mr Burn Murdoch insisted that the key to speed up the lifting of lockdown is the reduction in the rate of positive coronavirus tests.

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