No, half of UK’s imported Covid-19 cases not from Pakistan

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Claim: Half of the UK’s imported Covid-19 cases are from Pakistan.

Fact: The majority of imported Covid-19 cases in the UK are from European countries.

Soch Fact Check received a screenshot of an article published on The Telegraph for verification on Whatsapp. The article’s headline stated that half of the United Kingdom’s imported Covid 19 cases came from Pakistan. The article was published on 26 June 2020, and only considered data from 4 June 2020 till 26 June 2020. The claim was reported by other British newspapers on 27 June 2020. The Telegraph later updated their headline to specify that only data from June was considered.

Screenshots of the claim circulating on Whatsapp. Source: Geo News

We decided to fact check this claim because Pakistani news websites such as Samaa news and Times of Islamabad published the same misleading headline, but have not issued a correction or changed their headlines. Therefore, the claim is being reproduced on social media, and has crossed the border and is being reported in a sensationalized manner by the press in India.

On 1 June 2020 Breitbart News, a news organization based in the United States, expanded the claim further and reported that people arriving from Pakistan brought half of all the imported coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom since March, a completely fabricated claim which is also at odds with the Telegraph article that considered data from June only. Although the link is now broken, the headline can be seen in a screenshot below.

A study on the source of imported cases in the UK published on 8 June 2020 by the University of Oxford and University of Edinburgh shows that a majority of the 1,356 importations of Covid 19 into the UK recorded till 22 May 2020 originated predominantly in Spain, France, and Italy. The study also clarifies that “the rate [of introduction of SARS-CoV-2 lineages] peaked in mid-March and most introductions occurred during March 2020”, which means that the 30 cases recorded in June can not make up half of all imported cases in the UK in total, or half the cases imported since March.

Graphical representation which shows how a majority of importations originated from European countries. Source: Universities of Oxford, Edinbrugh

The original Telegraph article clarified that only half of Britain’s imported Covid 19 cases in the month of June came from Pakistan. It was reported that since 4 June 2020, Public Health England data showed 30 people with the virus had entered Britain on flights from Pakistan. This makes up half of the 60 people with the virus that entered Britain in that period. A tweet from The Telegraph’s twitter account still carries the misleading claim as its caption.

This period in June accounts for only 9% of the total cases of Covid 19 in the UK. Hence it is too small a sample size to draw conclusions about the source of imported Covid 19 cases in the United Kingdom over the entire pandemic, which was implied by the headline. The Telegraph faced backlash for their misleading headline and subsequently corrected it on 30 June 2020, which we confirmed using Archive.org’s Wayback Machine tool. Similarly, The Sun also corrected their headline which previously misrepresented the data from June in the same way.

Headline changed for the The Telegraph article which initially reported the claim. Source: Wayback Machine screenshots from 29 June and 1 July

According to a report published on The News on 28 June 2020, a spokesperson for Public Health England informed The News that the tally of approximately 30 cases reported on by The Telegraph and other British tabloids was “a small number of cases” while Members of Parliament for the Labor party Afzal Khan and Naz Shah condemned the misleading stories. Afzal Khan wrote in a letter addressed to the editor of The Telegraph, “Your choice of the headline distorts the statistics quoted and is therefore deeply misleading. If a reader were to read no further than the headline, they would be under the impression that half of all Covid 19 cases were imported from Pakistan to the UK throughout the pandemic.”

Summary: Although from 4 to 26 June 2020 half of the Covid-19 cases imported to the UK were from Pakistan, this represents only 30 cases in absolute terms, and most Covid-19 cases imported to the UK over the entire pandemic are from Europe. Headlines and social media posts claiming half of all imported cases are from Pakistan over the entire pandemic are false.

Additional research by Ammar Zardari. 

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