The UK government is facing allegations they are manipulating coronavirus death numbers, after revealing they are changing the way the figures are released, claiming family consent is now required.
On Wednesday night, the Department for Health and Social Care published the latest Covid-19 figures showing an increase of 43 deaths – less than half the fatalities from the previous day (87).
A positive sign that the number had decreased? At first glance, yes, until it’s revealed those figures “do not cover a full 24 hour period” as usual.
UPDATE on coronavirus (#COVID19) testing in the UK:As of 9am on 25 March, a total of 97,019 have been tested:87,490 negative.9,529 positive.463 patients who tested positive for coronavirus have sadly died. Please note these figures do not cover a full 24 hour period. pic.twitter.com/VxEy3syL0L
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 25, 2020
So why? BBC Newsnight’s Nick Watt explained that the government was changing the way it releases Covid-19 death figures, which “may not actually be the deaths that have taken place over the last 24 hrs,” as family consent is now required.
The government’s sudden shift in the criteria of reporting coronavirus numbers has provoked accusations that they are manipulating data without a valid reason. Luke Cooper, an associate researcher at LSE Conflict and Civil society research claimed that it “sounds an awful lot like government is fiddling the figures,” insisting that it is “not true” that consent is required “if data is anonymized.”
It’s not true that consent is required if the data is anonymised. I’m sorry to say that this sounds an awful lot like govt is fiddling the figures… https://t.co/qDR1QlKLyP
— Luke Cooper (@lukecooper100) March 26, 2020
Echoing that sentiment, Dr. Nisreen Alwan – an associate professor in public health at Southampton University – says that as is the case for information from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), “consent is not needed” for anonymized mortality data.
Can @DHSCgovuk pls clarify ‘change of criteria’ in reporting #COVID19 deaths? Why is consent needed as reported by @BBCNews? Consent is not needed for ONS anonymised mortality data. We don’t have accurate data for number infected. We at the very least need that for mortality data
— Dr Nisreen Alwan (@Dr2NisreenAlwan) March 26, 2020
Sam Fowles, a barrister that advised Another Europe – a pro-EU campaign group – on its GDPR compliance concurred, adding that “even if it were personal data, the government could arguably publish on the basis of overwhelming public interest. But in any case, it isn’t.”
PM Johnson ordered a temporary national lockdown on Monday and advised British people to “stay at home” outside of emergencies, buying essential supplies or getting exercise, otherwise they face the possibility of fines and even arrest.
The number of confirmed UK cases of Covid-19 currently stands at 9,529 – a rise of 1,452 in 24 hours.
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