UK Covid death toll passes 75,000 despite falling infections

The coronavirus death toll passed 75,000 yesterday with the release of figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Kat Lay Health Editor

The total is higher than the government’s official figure of 59,051, which counts only those who die within 28 days of a positive test. The latest data from the ONS, which records any death with Covid-19 on the death certificate, regardless of whether they tested positive for the virus, showed 2,697 such deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending November 20.

That took the combined death toll recorded by Britain’s three statistical agencies to 71,719.

Adding the 3,384 deaths recorded on the government’s list since the agencies’ latest figures takes the number of Covid-19 deaths to 75,103.

The ONS figures show that deaths from Covid-19 are still rising in England and Wales, despite the number of infections starting to fall in recent weeks.

Although hospital admissions are beginning to follow suit, deaths will be the last indicator to decline. The 2,697 deaths were 231 more than the week before and the highest number since the week ending May 15.

They represent more than a fifth of the 12,535 deaths from any cause registered that week, which were 21 per cent, or 2,155 deaths, above the five-year average. That means the number of deaths not caused by Covid-19 was slightly below the five-year average.

The rate of deaths above what would normally be expected for the time of year, or excess deaths, is considered one of the best ways to track the pandemic because it captures coronavirus deaths that have not been recognised as such and any caused by a lack of access to usual healthcare, for example.

Sir David Spiegelhalter, chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge University, said that the total deaths figure was “substantially larger than the peak for this week over the past ten years, which was 10,882 in 2019” and “far greater than could be explained by an ageing population”.

He added: “It is encouraging that deaths that were not caused by Covid were slightly below the five-year average. We might expect some deaths that would normally occur now to have been brought forward by the first wave. But this still suggests that the collateral damage of the measures against the pandemic have not yet had an impact on overall mortality.”

Of deaths with Covid-19 mentioned on the certificate, 88 per cent (2,361) mentioned it as the underlying cause.

Professor Spiegelhalter said: “Between September 5 and November 20, 12,907 deaths involving Covid were registered in the UK and there have been roughly 3,000 since then, making 16,000 altogether in the second wave. Sadly, the prediction that the second wave would involve tens of thousands of Covid deaths looks like it will be fulfilled. We can expect this second-wave total to rise to over 20,000 by Christmas.”