Fact check: The British government is not combining data on COVID-19 and the flu; it is publishing the separate data together in one report

A screenshot of an official coronavirus report has been used to wrongly suggest that data on COVID-19 and influenza are now being combined in England.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The photo, uploaded to numerous accounts in mid-October, is seen in these posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here), and has been taken from a weekly COVID-19 surveillance report published on the Public Health England (PHE) website on Oct. 2 (here).

In this particular report, one line reads: “This will be the last COVID-19 surveillance report, as of 8 October 2020, the information in this report will be published in a combined Weekly flu and COVID-19 Surveillance Report on GOV.UK.”

This line has since been used to illustrate the Facebook users’ claims that PHE has decided to combine COVID-19 and influenza figures, with one person specifically asserting – falsely – that this would “create one statistic”.

Another said: “What do you do if you aren’t sure Covid numbers will go up enough to justify a second lockdown? Hey, why not combine Covid *and flu* statistics together to make the Covid numbers look worse than they really are!”

However, these claims are false, and it is not true to say the data is being combined.

What is, in fact, being combined are the separate reports on COVID-19 and influenza – not their numbers, and not to make one “look worse”. The government has been publishing surveillance reports on COVID-19 every week since April (here), while flu reports have been published on the PHE website for several years (here). The influenza reports are released fortnightly during periods of low infection rates and are increased to weekly reports as activity picks up. They also include data on other respiratory illnesses, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which is another coronavirus.

Looking at the first published COVID-19 and influenza report on Oct. 8 (here), it can be noted that it is simply one document containing separate COVID-19 surveillance statistics and influenza statistics. Several graphs do include both sets of statistics in order to draw comparisons.


False. Public Health England is not combining COVID-19 and influenza data to make “one statistic”. The official health body is simply putting the separate data into a single document that is regularly published.

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