July 25, 2023 - 4:30pm

A recent New York Times article contains a rather surprising piece of information. Discussing the significant decline in official Covid deaths in the US, writer David Leonhardt claims that the actual number is almost certainly even lower. “The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had the virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death,” Leonhardt writes, noting that even the CDC’s own data shows that almost one-third of recent official Covid deaths have fallen into this category.

Leonhardt adds this very nonchalantly, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. In fact, the issue was verboten until not too long ago: throughout the pandemic, claims that the official number of Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths was likely to be inflated — due to the use of very questionable statistical methods — were dismissed as groundless conspiracy theories. It’s good to see another taboo fall, but the real question is why it took so long, considering that it became apparent almost from day one that governments were adopting a very “liberal” approach to attributing deaths.

As Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator under Donald Trump from 2020 to 2021, declared: “if someone dies with Covid-19, we are counting that as a Covid-19 death.” The same approach was adopted in most Western countries. This was rather surprising, especially in light of the fact that the overwhelming majority of “Covid-19 deaths” were patients with pre-existing illnesses (hypertension, diabetes, heart conditions, and so on) for which a direct causality from Covid was impossible to ascertain.

This was a completely novel approach. Until then, the standard method had been to consider the true of cause of death the underlying disease — if someone suffering from end-stage cancer contracts pneumonia and dies, the cause of death is still cancer. Indeed, in March 2020 Walter Ricciardi, Scientific Advisor to the Italian Minister of Health for the Coronavirus Pandemic, reported that “on re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12% of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus.” Yet they were all counted as Covid-19 deaths. And the same thing was happening everywhere.

This is what came to be known as the death “by/with Covid” debate. Even worse, though, it soon became standard practice in virtually all the Western countries to classify every deceased person who had recently (or even not so recently) tested positive for Covid as a “Covid death”, even if the death was manifestly unrelated to the virus. Indeed, in several countries it wasn’t just fatalities with a positive Covid-19 test that entered the ranks, but also those where Covid-19 was simply suspected — as per World Health Organization guidelines.

As Ngozi Ezike, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director, put it in April 2020: “technically, even if you died of a clear alternate cause, but you had Covid at the same time, it’s still listed as a Covid death. So, everyone who’s listed as a Covid death doesn’t mean that was the cause of death, but they had Covid at the time of death”. It would later emerge, in one American county, that “clear alternate causes” of death could include anything from injury and poisoning to motorcycle accidents and gunshot wounds.

So, overall, it’s safe to say that Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths were massively overcounted — as even the New York Times now admits. This raises a number of very disturbing issues: was this simply the result of authorities erring on the side of caution by rounding up numbers, or was there a deliberate attempt to inflate the figures in order to stoke panic and fear in the population? And even more importantly, if many of the excess deaths weren’t caused by Covid itself, there’s only one logical conclusion: that they were caused by the political response to it.

Thomas Fazi is an UnHerd columnist and translator. His latest book is The Covid Consensus, co-authored with Toby Green.