A worker in a protective suit, used due to the Covid-19 pandemic, waits outside a crematorium facility in Manila on April 29, 2020. (AFP / Maria Tan)

International health experts refute claim that coronavirus death rate is lower than that of the flu

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A claim that the death rate from the novel coronavirus disease, Covid-19, is lower than that of the flu has been shared hundreds of times in multiple Facebook and Twitter posts. The claim is false; available evidence from multiple expert sources show the Covid-19 death rate is higher than the flu’s death rate.

The claim was made in a graphic published on Facebook here on August 29, 2020. The post has been shared more than 200 times since.

A screenshot of the misleading post, taken on September 7, 2020

The text in the graphic reads: "Let that sink in. The Covid-19 death rate without a vaccine is lower than the flu death rate with a vaccine."

The claim was also shared on Facebook here, here and here; and on Twitter here, here and here

The claim is false, according to multiple international health experts. 

“Doctors and scientists are working to estimate the mortality rate of COVID-19, but at present, it is thought to be substantially higher (possibly 10 times or more) than that of most strains of the flu,” Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins University, said in a September 2020 report here.

Maragakis added that Johns Hopkins, a leading source of Covid-19 data in the US, estimates that there have been approximately 869,306 Covid-19 deaths worldwide from January 2020 and September 4, 2020. The flu, however, only kills roughly 290,000 to 650,000 people worldwide every year, Maragakis wrote citing the World Health Organization (WHO).

Peter Julian Cayton, an associate professor of statistics and member of the University of the Philippines Pandemic Response Team, also refuted the claim about Covid-19’s death rate.

"For influenza-like illnesses in the Philippines, the case fatality ratio is at 0.014% last 2018. As it stands right now, COVID-19 is estimated to have 1.6%, but this (is) still preliminary for many reasons, like the year not yet over and some data pending processing and validation,” he told AFP in a Facebook message September 7, 2020.

As early as March 2020, international experts determined that Covid-19’s death rate was higher than that of the flu.

“Mortality for COVID-19 appears higher than for influenza, especially seasonal influenza,” the WHO stated here on March 17, 2020. 

At the time, the WHO determined that “the crude mortality ratio (the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases) is between 3-4%, the infection mortality rate (the number of reported deaths divided by the number of infections) will be lower. For seasonal influenza, mortality is usually well below 0.1%.”