Steve September 16, 2020
this-viral-post-understates-the-risk-of-covid-19-infection

A post circulating on Facebook makes several claims about coronavirus, flu and cancer.

The post starts: 

“There will never be an end to Covid. It will never go away. We have to get used to it and get used to living with it. Flu came along, killed hundreds of thousands. We live with it. It’s part of our everyday lives. Cancer kills millions. We don’t stop eating foods and living lifestyles that increase the risks of getting it.

We can’t live in fear forever. They say 1 in 2.5 people will get cancer. The odds of catching covid are 44 million to one. If you did catch it, it’s 1 in a 100 percent chance of dying.”

There are a lot of claims and statements made in the post, but we’re going to focus on the risk of getting cancer, contracting Covid-19 and dying of Covid-19.

The post claims that one in 2.5 people will get cancer. It’s unclear where this figure is from but it’s in the right ballpark. Cancer Research reports that about one in two people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. The post claims that the chance of catching Covid-19 is “44 million to one” (with one version claiming it’s “4 million to one” which seems a typo given the rest of the post is identical.)  

This is a misreading of a claim made by economist Tim Harford. He said that, in England, there were 44 infections per one million people a day, not that one in 44 million people were being infected per day. This comes from the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) estimate for the number of new cases in England from 7 to 13 August. 

This isn’t comparable to the figure on the risk of contracting cancer. The stated risk of cancer is over an entire lifetime while the 44 in a million figure is just the risk of contracting Covid-19 over a single day. 

Also, since this claim was made at the end of August, cases in England have started to increase, with the ONS estimating that there have been about 58 per million new infections per day in England, or about 3,200 new cases a day. 

The post claims that if you do catch Covid-19, you have a “one in 100 percent” chance of dying. Scientists are still calculating Covid-19’s fatality rate but this seems a reasonable estimate. The World Health Organisation currently estimates Covid-19’s infection fatality ratio (which is the proportion of people who die after being infected) to be around 0.5% to 1% globally. The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine estimates slightly lower rates for England. You can read more about how deadly Covid-19 is here.

Covid-19’s fatality rate also fluctuates between different groups depending on their background and health. For example, 91.1% of people whose deaths involved Covid-19 between March and June in England and Wales had at least one pre-existing condition, and the elderly are predominantly more likely to die from the virus, once infected, than younger people.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here.

For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false
because the claim about the chance of catching Covid-19 is inaccurate while the other claims are in the right ballpark.

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