Official Covid death toll reaches 200,000

To put this number in perspective there were 70,000 civilian deaths and 384,000 soldiers killed in combat during the six year course of WWII.

“We got the big calls right” or did we? – Owl

Tom Whipple

Over 200,000 people in Britain have now had Covid recorded on their death certificate, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

The milestone comes more than a year after the country reached 150,000 Covid-related deaths towards the end of last winter.

With hospital admissions continuing to rise amid a wave fuelled by a subvariant of Omicron, public health officials expect the toll to increase over the next few weeks.

Simon Clarke, from the University of Reading, said that the latest wave, in which infections are close to record levels, showed the importance of staying on top of the vaccination programme.

“At the moment we have transitioned to a situation where population-wide immunity, delivered largely by vaccination, means that Covid-19’s worst effects are likely to be a mass sickness which keeps people off work, and while this could disrupt public services, it doesn’t fill intensive care units with people struggling to breathe,” he said.

“But we are seeing the virus change and try to squeeze through the gaps in that immunity, so the vaccine producers need to ensure that future boosters take into account those changes to the virus and the government needs to ensure that boosting is comprehensive enough.”

At present the government plans to offer a booster to over-65s in the autumn, as well as those in younger age groups at increased risk. The JCVI, the committee advising the government on vaccinations, does not yet know whether that booster will, for the first time, be tweaked to match the variants. Both Pfizer and Moderna have vaccines in development that are specifically targeted to Omicron.

Sajid Javid, as health secretary, recently indicated that he was looking at extending this booster programme to include those aged over 50. Clarke said that doing so could be money well spent, adding: “A half-baked booster rollout done on the cheap risks not covering enough people and could end up costing the economy more in the long run.”

The 200,000 figure, announced today by the ONS, represents deaths up to June 25. The delay is because the statisticians have to wait for the official death certificates, where doctors mention Covid only if they deem it contributed to someone’s death.

These numbers are separate from the more rapid but less accurate “28-day” measure, in which those dying within 28 days of a positive test are all recorded as Covid deaths — in England this figure is 157,000 and in Wales 7,500. This measure is no longer used in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The latest wave has not translated so far into steeply rising deaths. ONS data shows that total mortality is only slightly higher than expected at this time of the year, although because of the lag from infection to hospitalisation, more deaths are expected.

While scientists do not expect to see peaks anywhere near those encountered pre-vaccination, when there were more than 1,000 Covid deaths a day during the worst periods, some groups remain at risk.

A survey by Blood Cancer UK has found that a quarter of those with the cancer are still only leaving home for essential trips. Treatment for the condition can wipe out the immune system, and more than four fifths of those surveyed by the charity said they were still anxious about Covid.

An estimated half a million Britons are immuno-compromised, meaning they typically have a less strong response to the vaccines.

The organisation called for those who have not gained vaccine protection to be offered Evusheld, an antibody prophylactic.

“The number of people with blood cancer who have died of Covid is shockingly high,” said Gemma Peters, the chief executive of Blood Cancer UK.

“We also know that the effort to avoid coming into contact with the virus has had a huge mental health impact. While it is completely understandable that the country is now getting back to normal life after a horrible two years, this return to normality needs to be accompanied by much more support for those who are still vulnerable to Covid.”