A man wears a face mask as he walks past the ancient Colosseum in downtown Rome on December 5, 2020 ( AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE)

Italy did not revise down its Covid-19 death toll

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Social media posts and online articles claim Italian authorities revised down the country's Covid-19 death toll from more than 130,000 to less than 4,000. This is false; the posts and articles misrepresented a report by Italy's leading health institute, which described the claim as "fake news."

"Italy reduces covid death toll from 130k to 3,783," says text in an image featured in an October 28, 2021 Instagram post, which matches this online article.

Screenshot of an Instagram post taken November 4, 2021

Other online articles also made the claim here and here, as did posts on Instagram and Twitter. The claim also circulated in Finnish and was debunked by AFP Faktantarkistus here.

Italy, which has suffered one of Europe's worst Covid-19 death tolls relative to population in 2020, has reported more than 132,000 deaths related to the disease.

The claims appear to have originated from an October 21 article published in Italian newspaper Il Tempo, which stated that the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) -- Italy's leading health institute -- changed its Covid-19 data.

The article alleged that a report published by the ISS on October 5 found only 2.9 percent of coronavirus deaths after the end of February 2020 can be counted as deaths caused by the coronavirus.

The newspaper also claimed that the ISS had effectively admitted that "of the 130,468 deaths registered by official statistics at the time of the preparation of the new report, only 3,783 would be due to the power of the virus itself," suggesting that the remaining deaths were not caused by the coronavirus because the patients had other underlying diseases or conditions.

The claims circulating online incorrectly suggest that only patients without any comorbidities -- a disease or condition that exists along with another disease or condition -- can be counted as deaths caused by the coronavirus.

The 2.9 percent figure represents patients with Covid-19 listed as the only cause of death, but the remaining deaths simply listed additional conditions, pre-existing illnesses, or complications, along with Covid-19.

Pier David Malloni, a spokesperson at the ISS, described the claim as "fake news."

"This is completely wrong. What we wrote in the report is that the 2.9 percent of the people deceased did not have some other comorbidity," he told AFP on November 4, 2021.

Malloni explained that having one or more comorbidities "is a risk factor for Covid-19," one that increases your chances of severe illness or death if you contract Covid-19.

The ISS also denied the allegations in a press release on October 25.

US health authorities have also emphasized that comorbidities increase the danger of Covid-19, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying on its website that "the risk of severe Covid-19 increases as the number of underlying medical conditions increases in a person."

National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Chief of Mortality Statistics Bob Anderson said on August 31, 2020 that comorbidities are often actually complications of Covid-19.

"You've got things like acute respiratory failure caused by Covid-19, or pneumonia caused by Covid-19," he explained. So while these conditions are technically comorbidities, "Covid-19 is the underlying cause of death, because it caused pneumonia, which caused the person to die."

AFP Fact Check has debunked more than 1,200 other inaccurate claims related to Covid-19 here.

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