A COVID-19 positive patient in a Sydney hospital (file image)
A nurse caring for a COVID-19 patient at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital earlier this year. Image by AAP IMAGES/Supplied

COVID case meme misleads on Australian fatality rates

AAP FactCheck November 19, 2021
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

Australia's COVID-19 case fatality rate (CFR) is around one per cent or less for every age group.

OUR VERDICT

Misleading. While the CFR is around one per cent for all COVID-19 cases in Australia, for older age groups it is as high as 32 per cent.

An anti-lockdown group in Victoria has presented figures that give the misleading impression Australia’s COVID-19 case fatality rate (CFR) is around one per cent or less in every age group.

The CFR is the proportion of people who have died among confirmed COVID-19 cases. One death from every 100 cases translates to a CFR of one per cent.

Reignite Democracy Australia, a group which opposes various government COVID-19 restrictions, published a two-column table on Facebook on November 10 purporting to show Australia’s COVID CFR when broken down by age groups. However, it omits a column from the original source that would underscore the high COVID-19 death rates among older cohorts.

The Reignite Democracy Australia Facebook post
 The Facebook meme purports to show Australia’s COVID-19 case fatality rates by age group. 

In the right-hand column of the Reignite Democracy Australia post under “CFR”, the table lists percentages for each age group. The CFR for the age group 80-89, for example, is listed as 0.79 per cent in the meme. For 90-plus it is 1.02 per cent, the highest rate among the groups.

While it is true Australia’s overall CFR at the given date of November 4, 2021 was 1.02 per cent, the rate differs markedly for each cohort. The meme omits this information, instead showing a cumulative rate up to and including each group without identifying this is what the figures represent.

A web address on the meme links to an article on the group’s website. At the bottom of that page is a link to the “full article” published by Spectator Australia on November 8.

The Spectator article contains a larger table of data credited to Australia’s Department of Health that is current as of November 4. AAP FactCheck has verified the data in the Spectator table is accurate against data provided by the department.

The table contains the two columns in the Facebook meme but specifies that this is a cumulative rate, showing the CFR up to and including each cohort.

However, beside the column is another headed “CFR for age group”, which is not included in the meme. It shows the fatality rate among cases in the 70-79 age group is 6.97 per cent. In the 80-89 group it is 19.86 per cent. In the 90-plus group, it is 32.31 per cent.

Adrian Esterman, a professor of biostatistics at the University of South Australia, told AAP FactCheck that if someone gave him the meme table he “wouldn’t have a clue” what it meant.

“It’s so easy to misinterpret the meme,” Prof Esterman said in a phone interview, adding that it only provided a cumulative CFR.

“So where it says .21 per cent, that is the percentage of cases who have died under 70. The 0.04 per cent is the percentage of cases who have died under 50. If you look at it without knowing, you think it’s the rate per age group, but it’s not,” he said.

One comment on the Facebook post says: “Wasted 2 years of my life for a 0.1% chance of dying.” This is the CFR next to the 50-59 age bracket in the meme, but the actual CFR for this cohort is 0.59 per cent – or one in every 167 cases.

AAP FactCheck has previously fact-checked other COVID-19 related misinformation from Reignite Democracy Australia. In April 2021, the group falsely suggested the federal government was hiding information about COVID-19 vaccine adverse reactions. In November 2020, it falsely suggested businesses in Victoria couldn’t bar entry to people not wearing masks.

The Verdict

The meme highlights incomplete figures in a way that misleadingly suggests the COVID-19 case fatality rate (CFR) in Australia for each age group is much lower than than the true rate. The original source of the figures, a table published by Spectator Australia, shows the CFR rates in the post are cumulative and do not represent the COVID-19 fatality rates by age.

Misleading – The claim is accurate in parts but information has also been presented incorrectly, out of context or omitted.

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