FACT CHECK: Viral Post Understates The 2020 COVID-19 Death Toll

Elias Atienza | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Instagram claims about 489,000 people died from COVID-19 in 2020 compared to 650,000 from the seasonal flu in 2018 and 50 million from the Spanish flu in 1918.

Verdict: Misleading

While it is true that an estimated 50 million people died from the Spanish flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the post understates the amount of COVID-19 deaths in 2020. More than 1.8 million deaths were attributed to the disease in 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Fact Check:

An image shared on Instagram attempts to compare the number of COVID-19 deaths in 2020 to the number of deaths from the 2018 flu season and the 1918 Spanish flu. It claims only 488,729 people died from COVID-19 in 2020, while 50 million died from the Spanish flu and 650,000 died from the seasonal flu in 2018.

The post appears to criticize the apparent outsized reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and includes text that reads, “THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END, SHUT DOWN ALL BUSINESS, CLOSE THE CHURCHES, RUIN THE WORLDS ECONOMY!”(RELATED: Viral Post Claims The FDA Did Not Approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine)

The image understates the amount of COVID-19 deaths in 2020. In reality, more than 1.8 million deaths were attributed to the disease that year, and the true death toll might be as high as 3 million, according to the WHO. Global COVID-19 deaths surpassed 500,000 in June 2020, NPR reported. The figure hit 1 million in September 2020, according to BBC News.

The U.S. alone reported over 361,000 COVID-19 deaths by Dec. 31, 2020, according to the CDC. The U.K. reported over 76,00 deaths by the same date, while Italy reported 74,000 deaths by Dec. 28. The three countries combined account for over 511,000 deaths by the end of 2020, slightly more than the post claims died globally by that time.

While the post’s claim about the Spanish flu death toll is correct, an estimated 50 million people died from the disease, the global population was higher than the post alleges. The population in 1918 was around 1.5 billion, according to the CDC’s website, not 950 million. Check Your Fact likewise found no evidence of 650,000 people dying from the flu in 2018, though the WHO reported that such a number of people can die from respiratory illness linked to the flu each year.

Elias Atienza

Fact Check Reporter
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