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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman November 10, 2021
Luiz Romero
By Luiz Romero November 10, 2021

Italy didn’t lower its COVID-19 death toll ‘by over 97%.’ The count exceeds 132,000

If Your Time is short

  • Italy didn’t lower its COVID-19 death count by over 97%. The country’s official death toll exceeds 132,000 people.

  • The claim misconstrues a recent report by the Italian National Institute of Health that highlighted the most common diseases people already had when they died after contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. An agency spokesperson called the claim “completely wrong.”

  • Pre-existing conditions are a known risk factor for COVID-19, and the agency said its analysis shows that the disease is the direct cause of death in 89% of people who test positive for the virus.

It’s been well reported that the COVID-19 pandemic hit Italy hard and early. But some are claiming that the country’s struggles with the virus are fraudulent because it significantly lowered its COVID-19 death toll, putting it on par with the seasonal flu.

"Italy drastically reduced the country’s official Covid-19 death count by over 97%," a Facebook post said. "This means Covid killed fewer people than…an average seasonal flu. 2020. The Year of the Fraud."

The post, which also features a headline by a website called "Technology News & Trends," was shared by America’s Frontline Doctors, a group that became famous for voicing unproven, false and misleading claims about COVID-19

It was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat potential false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

This is a misinterpretation of data. The Italian National Institute of Health didn’t lower its COVID-19 death toll by 97% — it released a detailed analysis on the characteristics of COVID-19 patients who have died in the country. A spokesperson with the agency called the claim "completely wrong."

The Oct. 5 report detailed 130,468 COVID-19 deaths in the country up until that point.

In one section, the report analyzed the cases of 7,910 people who died from COVID-19 in hospitals and looked for the most common comorbidities, meaning they had two or more health conditions at the same time. 

That analysis found that 2.9% of the deceased COVID-19 patients had no comorbidities, 11.4% had one, 18% had two, and 67.7% had three or more. The conditions included heart disease, type-2 diabetes, obesity and autoimmune diseases. 

This is where the distortion comes in. Of all the deaths, 97.1% had one or more conditions listed aside from COVID-19, while the other 2.9% had none. 

Some have used this information to falsely claim that the Italian health department was "lowering" its COVID-19 death toll by 97% because those people had been previously diagnosed with other illnesses.

But pre-existing conditions present a risk factor for people who contract COVID-19, and chronic diseases in the elderly population are common. The presence of another condition by itself isn’t evidence that a person didn’t die of COVID-19.

The Italian National Institute of Health addressed these rumors in an Oct. 25 news release.

The agency reiterated that the 2.9% figure, also reported in previous editions, refers to the percentage of patients who died after testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and who had no other conditions diagnosed before infection. 

"The joint ISTAT-ISS reports drawn up on the basis of death certificates show that COVID-19 is the directly responsible cause of death in 89% of deaths of people positive to the SARS-CoV-2 test," the agency said in the release. "In view of the fact that chronic diseases represent a risk factor for death from COVID-19 and that these are very common in the general population, it is not surprising the high frequency of these conditions in the SARS-CoV-2 positive deceased population."

"This is completely wrong," Italian National Institute of Health spokesperson Mirella Taranto told PolitiFact via email.

Taranto added that COVID-19 was the primary cause of death for the 130,468 people mentioned in the report. In those cases, "even if a patient has previous illnesses," like hypertension, diabetes, or obesity, "the virus is responsible for their death," she said.

She pointed to the number of excess deaths in Italy as further proof.

The same diseases were present in the population at similar levels both in 2019 and 2020, but according to Italy’s National Statistics Institute (ISTAT), the country registered more than 100,000 excess deaths in 2020—after the pandemic started.

An interactive map maintained by the Italian Department of Civil Protection shows that Italy’s COVID-19 death toll currently stands around 132,500.

Our ruling

A Facebook post claimed that Italy lowered its COVID-19 death toll "by over 97%."

This is inaccurate and misconstrues a report by the Italian health department that highlighted the most common diseases that people already had when they died after being diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Pre-existing conditions are a known risk factor for COVID-19, and the agency said its analysis shows that COVID-19 is the direct cause of death in 89% of people who test positive for the virus.

We rate the claim False.

UPDATE, Nov. 15, 2021: This fact-check has been updated to include comment from a spokesperson for the Italian National Institute of Health. The rating is unchanged.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Nov. 10, 2021

Italian Department of Civil Protection interactive COVID-19 map, Accessed Nov. 10, 2021 

Italian National Institute of Health, Characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 patients dying in Italy Report based on available data on October 5th , 2021 

Italian National Institute of Health,  Details on the death report, Oct. 25, 2021 

Reuters, Fact Check-Italy did not reduce its reported tally of COVID-19 deaths by 97%, Nov. 8, 2021 

USA Today, Fact check: In Italy, more than 132,000 have died from COVID-19, Nov. 5, 2021 

Italy’s National Statistics Institute (ISTAT), "Impatto dell’epidemia COVID-19 sulla mortalità totale della popolazione residente," June 10, 2021.

Email interview with Mirella Taranto, spokesperson for Italy’s National Health Institute (ISS), Nov. 9, 2021.

 

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Italy didn’t lower its COVID-19 death toll ‘by over 97%.’ The count exceeds 132,000

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