Covid-19: Tweaking terminology in pandemic panic

As Brian Pottinger puts it; “If truth is the first casualty in war, statistics are in pandemics.” He adds that Covid-19 happened in the middle of US elections which led the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), based in the United States to adopt an alarmist stance. As he sees it, clinical, epidemiological and phylogenetic data was interpreted to give the worst possible projections. Reporting criteria and processes were changed, distorting numbers. This scenario is almost identical to the Swine Flu outbreak in 2009. In this extract of ‘States of Panic: COVID-19 and the New Medieval’, the author notes that in his view,” no pandemic in the history of our species has proceeded with such a pre-determined diagnostic bias and few with such institutionalized fear. “- Melani Nathan

Everyman’s guide on how to reach one million plus Covid-19 fatalities in eight months

By Brian Pottinger*

The earliest guidance from the WHO on reporting and surveillance of Covid-19 was published on March 2 2020 in an admirably detailed set of requirements for handling and interpreting laboratory samples.

Had the WHO stuck rigorously to the principle of only accepting laboratory tested confirmation of Covid-19 cases and deaths there would have been no Great Covid-19 Panic of 2020, no destroyed economies, no egregious breach of human rights, no States of Panic, only an orderly process of analysing, evaluating and reporting the progress of the disease in a way that would have given the political elites time to consider their options.

Had the WHO not adopted a definition of pandemic in 2009 that allowed them to drive Covid-19 rapidly to pandemic and thus panic stage, had it remained with the old definition of infections per 10 000, it would have allowed all the stakeholders more time to track the progress of the outbreak and more finely calibrate their responses, rather than falling into panic mode with disastrous consequences.

By March 20 2020, the WHO was already opening the door to a flabbier test for the analysing and reporting of the disease. Another interim guidance now suggested three categories under its definitions for Covid-19 case surveillance i.e. the reporting of infections.

Read also: Who will answer for Covid-19’s dark science? Brian Pottinger busts 10 myths. MUST READ!

A suspect case was anybody with a severe or acute respiratory illness with a history of travel in a location with community transmission, a person in contact with a confirmed or probable Covid-19 case or somebody for whom no alternative diagnosis was plausible.

A Probable Case was one where testing was inconclusive or could not be performed.

A Confirmed Case was a person with a laboratory confirmation of a Covid-19 infection, irrespective of clinical signs and symptoms.

All diseases are coded according to the International Classification of Diseases Tenth Revision (CD-10). Covid-19 was registered as U07.1 for confirmed cases or “virus identified”. Then, unusually, a later “emergency” designation was created named U07.2 for “virus not identified”, which was described as clinically-epidemiologically diagnosed Covid-19: Probable Covid-19 or Suspected Covid-19.

Leave aside for a moment why it was deemed necessary to create a “maybe” category of disease, had even these distinctions been maintained, we might yet have a much better idea of infections and deaths in which Covid-19 was conclusively present as opposed to those in which it was merely suspected. The distinctions were not maintained, deliberately.

A month later, in its document International Guidelines For Certification And Classification (Coding) of Covid-19 As Cause Of Death (April 20 2020), the WHO advised:

Definitions of Deaths Due to Covid-19

A death due to Covid-19 is defined for surveillance purposes as a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness, in a probable or confirmed Covid-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to Covid-19 disease (i.e. trauma).

A death due to Covid-19 may not be attributed to another disease (e.g. cancer) and should be counted independently of pre-existing conditions that are suspected of triggering a severe course of Covid-19.

Two further injunctions followed:

Recording Covid-19 On The Medical Certificate Of Cause of Death

Covid-19 should be recorded on the medical certificate of cause of death for ALL decedents where the disease caused, or is assumed to have caused, or contributed to death.


The use of the terminology, Covid-19, should be used for all certification of this cause of death.

As there are many types of coronavirus, it is recommended not to use “coronavirus” in place of Covid-19.

The guidelines threw established practice overboard in a number of fundamental ways.

First, the definition of epidemiological history was weakened. It no longer required evidence of contact with a proven or even probable case of Covid-19: mere presence in an area where Covid-19 had been propagating was sufficient.

Second, clear laboratory proof of the presence of Covid-19 was no longer required. Probable was good to go, thus opening up a whole arena of supposition, assumption and even prejudice by front-line clinicians. The WHO had fatally compromised its own definition of Confirmed and made meaningless all the “Confirmed” cases it posted on its dashboard every day.

Third, there had to be a “clear alternative” to the presumption of Covid-19 as the cause of death (the guidance helpfully suggests that trauma might just be such a clear alternative). So the diagnostic presumption had swung from having to prove it was Covid-19 to having to prove it was not.

Fourth, the causality sequence was turned into a one-way street leading to Covid-19. If Covid-19 was present in the decedent and assumed to be the cause of death, it would be registered as the cause of death, even if a host of other comorbidities, such as cancer, were listed, any one of which could have had a much better claim to being the cause of death.

Finally, of all the coronaviruses floating around, only Covid-19 could be recorded on a Certificate of Death.

This was followed by guidance from the WHO that all previous categorisations of Covid-19 deaths should be reviewed in the light of the new guidance and resubmitted. They were, with a dramatic effect on Covid-19 case and fatality numbers.

It is hard to imagine a more generous charter for classifying as many deaths from co-morbidities as possible under the catch-all term Covid-19. Having started from a position of only accepting laboratory tested proofs of Covid-19, the WHO had moved to the creation of a “maybe” category.  And within a month it had undercut even that with new instructions further blurring the lines between those who had died from Covid-19 and those who had died with Covid-19.

By August 7 2020, the WHO criteria had again changed, now abandoning respiratory illness as the key criteria for the virus. In terms of its Covid-19 Guidance, the clinical criteria for a Suspected Case now included: 1. Acute onset of fever AND cough OR 2. Acute onset of ANY THREE OR MORE of the following signs or symptoms: fever, cough, general weakness/fatigue, headache, myalgia (muscle aches and pain), sore throat, coryza (inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose), dyspnoea (difficult or laboured breathing), anorexia/nausea/vomiting, diarrhoea, altered mental status. 

The epidemiological criteria had also been massively widened to effectively include anybody travelling in any area where they might have come into contact with somebody from a cluster in which one person might be either a confirmed, probable or suspect case of Covid-19.

The effect of these new clinical and epidemiological definitions was breath-taking. Effectively, any person, anywhere suffering any basket of respiratory, alimentary or mental ailments short of trauma could qualify as a Covid-19 suspect or probable. The full impact was only to truly felt in late 2020 and early 2021 when hosts of new and seasonal coronavirus infections fell under these catch-all provisions.

What was the import of all this?

Let us recall the WHO’s April 20 2020 definition of death due to Covid-19: one resulting from any clinically compatible illness in a probable or confirmed Covid-19 case, unless a clear alternative was present. Remember also the regulations setting a one-way street to registering Covid-19 on death certificates.

So there lay the importance of widening the criteria of Probable and Suspect Covid-19 cases. Probables and Suspects had miraculously become Actuals and appeared as Confirmed in the WHO and other status dashboards.

But worse was to follow. In the rush to enlist as many fatalities as possible in terms of the WHO guidelines and those of its associated agencies like the CDC, people who had been admitted to hospital with biological traces of historic infection, in other words even if quite recovered, were listed as Covid-19 fatalities when they died from other causes.

Only sterling work by Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, forced the United Kingdom health authorities to admit their error and reduce fatalities by 5 000. This clear evidence of the lack of credibility of the Covid-19 statistics was uniformly ignored by the mainstream media and the health agencies’ acolyte journalists.

The WHO, contrary to its assertion that all its confirmed reported infection and fatality numbers are laboratory tested, has conceded they are in fact a composite of laboratory, probable, suspect and surveillance numbers. It steadfastly refuses to provide its estimated number of cases confirmed by laboratory testing.

Again, lest we forget, it was ‘’surveillance’’ that took a proven 18 449 fatalities in the Swine Flu outbreak in 2009/10 to an upper limit of 575 400. The same ‘’surveillance’’ has ensured the implausible result where South America with ten per cent of the world’s population was ‘’reporting’’ 35 per cent of global Covid-19 infections by August 2020.

Next Extract: The Centers for Disease Control and the Art of the Possible. States of Panic: COVID-19 and the New Medieval by Brian Pottinger is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

  • Brian Pottinger is a former Editor and Publisher of The Sunday Times. 

Read the previous extract: Covid-19: The lessons we should take from the Swine Flu outbreak

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