Is there a greater chance of a motorcyclist aged 67 dying as a motorcyclist than being affected by COVID-19?

CLAIM: There is a greater chance of a motorcyclist aged 67 in Northern Ireland dying in a motorcycle collision than being affected by COVID-19.

CONCLUSION: INACCURATE. Data shows that there have been no motorcyclists of Sammy Wilson MP’s age who have died as a result of a motorcycle collision in Northern Ireland, in the past three years. In 2020, there were 157 deaths registered related to COVID-19, of men aged 65–74. At the time of this claim, the probability of being infected by COVID-19 in Northern Ireland was an estimated 1 in 200 (now thought to be 1 in 60).

During BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme on 6 January 2020 (starts at 42:45), Sammy Wilson MP claimed, “At my age … I’m more in danger of being killed on a motorbike than I am of being affected by this virus.” Mr Wilson is 67 years old

Last year FactCheckNI investigated a similar claim about there being a greater chance of dying by being hit by a bus than by COVID-19.

To investigate this claim by Sammy Wilson MP, we need to find accurate data sources in order to compare probabilities. We want to learn how many people who are the age (or age band, as determined by the available statistics) of Mr Wilson died by motorcycle in Northern Ireland, as well as how many of the same age/age band were “affected by” COVID-19 (i.e. infected by or died as a result of). 

Death by motorcycle in Northern Ireland

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) publishes statistics on the number of people injured and killed as a result of road traffic collisions in Northern Ireland. For the year 2020, there were eight motorcycle rider fatalities. There have been no motorcycle rider fatalities involving those aged over 65 in the years 2018, 2019, and 2020. Put another way, since the recording of infections and deaths caused by COVID-19, there has been no probability of a motorcyclist in Northern Ireland who is the age of Mr Wilson dying by motorcycle.

Death by COVID-19 in Northern Ireland

Provisional figures for deaths registered in Northern Ireland where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate are compiled and published by the Northern Ireland Statistics Research Agency (NISRA). We focused on the ten-year age band 65–74. For 2020 (Table 5), there were 261 COVID-19 related deaths registered for those aged 65–74 (157 men; 104 women). To calculate a probability of death by COVID-19, we need to have an estimated population of those in this age band in Northern Ireland. We used the 2019 mid-year population estimates for Northern Ireland, published by NISRA (the most recent figures available), which showed an estimated 171,272 persons aged 65–74 (82,893 men; 88,379 women) (Table Tabular (Age_5)). We calculate a probability of a man residing in Northern Ireland aged 65–74 dying of COVID-19 is 0.19% (157/82,893) or 1 in 528.

Being infected with COVID-19 in Northern Ireland

Mr Wilson specifically said “affected by” the virus that causes COVID-19, which could be interpreted as contracting the virus rather than dying with COVID-19. Figures are not available to estimate how many individuals across the UK have tested positive for COVID-19 at least once throughout the year. (It would be inappropriate to sum the daily or weekly statistics.) Nonetheless, the Office for National Statistics publishes a weekly COVID-19 Infection Survey, which showed that an estimated 1 in 200 people in Northern Ireland had COVID-19 during the week ending 2 January 2021 (Table 4a). On 12 January, Dr Michael McBride (Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland) said that it was estimated that on average about 1 in 60 people in Northern Ireland have COVID-19. Infection figures are not available by age bands.

Summary

For those motorcyclists in the 65–74 age band, such as Sammy Wilson MP, data shows that there have been no deaths by motorcycle in the past three years. However, for men his age in Northern Ireland, there were 157 COVID-19 related registered deaths, equating to a probability of 1 in 528.

COVID-19 infection figures are not available by age bands, but as an ordinary resident of Northern Ireland, statisticians estimated that the probability of infection near the time of Mr Wilson’s claim was 1 in 200. Since then it has been estimated to be 1 in 60 in Northern Ireland.