The UK does not have the worst death toll in Europe, when you account for population – Full Fact


28 May 2021

What was claimed

The UK has the worst Covid death toll in Europe.

Our verdict

As of 25 May 2021, the UK had the 14th worst death toll in Europe when you factor in the size of the country. It has recorded more deaths than any other country, but it also has a much larger population than most.

We have the worst death toll in Europe.

Boris Johnson was too slow to introduce not one but three lockdowns, which left us with the worst death toll in Europe.

Labour’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, and deputy leader, Angela Rayner, have both said on Twitter and in an official Labour statement on Tuesday that the UK has the “worst [Covid-19] death toll in Europe”.

Although it’s correct that more confirmed Covid deaths have sadly been recorded in the UK than in any other European country, at the time of writing, this does not necessarily tell us whether it had the “worst” death toll, because most European countries have much smaller populations.

When comparing the death tolls in different countries it is important to take account of their different population sizes by looking at how many confirmed deaths they have recorded per million people.

By this measure, depending on which countries you include in “Europe”, the UK had about the 14th worst death toll among European countries on 25 May 2021.

It is also possible to measure the impact of the pandemic in different countries by comparing the excess mortality they have experienced since it started.

This is not a Covid death toll exactly, because it shows the overall difference between the number of deaths from all causes and the number that might be expected normally. Often this “expectation” is based on the average number of deaths over the past five years.

Many countries in Europe experienced extremely high excess mortality in 2020. Analysis by the Office for National Statistics in March found that the UK had the highest cumulative excess mortality rate by 26 June 2020. However, by 18 December 2020, Poland had the highest.

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