Coronavirus: About 117 people dying each day as deaths remain stable

Official data shows that the seven-day rolling average of deaths has stayed broadly stable at about 117 over the past week, with only a 1.2 per cent fall from the week before. In the seven days to Wednesday deaths totalled 825, compared with 823 the week before.

Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor | Anna Lombardi www.thetimes.co.uk
Deaths from coronavirus appear to have stopped falling as infections also continue to plateau.

Official data shows that the seven-day rolling average of deaths has stayed broadly stable at about 117 over the past week, with only a 1.2 per cent fall from the week before. In the seven days to Wednesday deaths totalled 825, compared with 823 the week before.

This compares with weekly falls of more than 20 per cent in both of the three previous weeks and experts said the consequences of flat-lining infection rates were feeding through to mortality figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said infection rates were flat, with 3,500 people catching the virus every day, not significantly different to the week before.

The ONS also estimates that one in 2,200 people in England — the equivalent of 25,000 people — has the virus. Although this is half of last week’s figure, it is not considered a clear sign that infections are falling. The figure could be anywhere between 12,000 and 44,000 given uncertainties in a survey in which only 12 out of the sample of 23,203 tested proved to have the virus.

“At this point, we do not have evidence that the current trend is anything other than flat,” the ONS concluded.

Kevin McConway, a professor of statistics at the Open University, said: “The levelling off did not happen as a sudden change, so it’s difficult to say exactly when it started — perhaps since early or middle June.

“In principle, it would be the incidence figures of new infections that might tell us something about the immediate effects of changes in policy, such as various loosenings of lockdown, but the changes in incidence rate are not really estimated accurately enough to make that link clear.”

Jose Vazquez-Boland, a professor at Edinburgh University, said that the flat trend of infection was likely to explain why the steep decline in deaths had stopped. “The short answer is yes,” he said, when asked if one led to the other.

The seven-day average of deaths peaked at 945 in mid-April and has been falling since. It fell below 200 on June 11 but has not fallen noticeably for the past week. However, deaths are not reported on the day they happen and Jason Oke, of the University of Oxford, said: “It is unclear, when and where these deaths come from and why they fluctuate so much.”

On Tuesday 176 deaths were reported but most were outside hospitals, even though most people with coronavirus do die in hospital, Dr Oke said.

Looking at figures on the day people actually die, he said: “ONS recorded 66 deaths occurred on June 19 in all settings in England and Wales continuing a downward trend in deaths since mid-April. We need to know how many of the deaths outside of hospital are current to be able to judge whether the trend is plateauing.”

His team’s data does not cover people who died last week because of the delay of several days in reported deaths.

The other way of looking at the toll is to count “excess deaths”, which have totalled more than 65,000 since the start of the crisis. Weekly death numbers have returned to normal, however, with official figures this week finding that the total number in the week to June 19 from all causes is slightly below the five-year average.

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