The deadly impact of coronavirus was laid bare in official figures on Tuesday revealing the highest rate of deaths in England and Wales in a single week since records began. In the week ending April 3, the Office for National Statistics received registrations of 16,387 deaths, a figure that was 6,082 higher than the average for that seven-day period over the past five years.
Separate figures derived from registrations logged with the ONS and mentioning coronavirus on the death certificate up to April 3 were 50 per cent higher than those contained in the daily announcements made by the Department of Health and Social Care about Covid-19 fatalities in hospitals.
This discrepancy arises partly due to the deaths announced by the health department mostly relating to people who passed away about three days earlier. It is also because the department’s figures exclude people who died at home or in care facilities. The government said on Tuesday that UK deaths from coronavirus in hospitals rose by 778 in 24 hours, bringing the total to 12,107 by 5pm on Monday.
Even the ONS figure of 16,387 deaths for the week ending April 3 will underestimate the total that occurred in the seven-day period. This is because the ONS has subsequently received reports of another 2,112 deaths mentioning coronavirus that occurred before that date, and which were registered later. The ONS figures confirm that the Covid-19 outbreak is significantly worse than any flu epidemic Britain has suffered in recent years.
Comparable estimates started 15 years ago. Nick Stripe, head of life events at the ONS, said: “The 16,387 deaths that were registered in England and Wales during the week ending 3 April is the highest weekly total since we started compiling weekly deaths data in 2005.” Death statistics are complicated and come from many different sources.
The daily figures announced by the health department relate to the numbers of hospital deaths announced in a 24-hour period from those testing positive for coronavirus. The vast majority of these deaths occurred earlier, with an average delay of three days. NHS England, which runs much of the health service, reports the number of people who died in England by the date of mortality, and this has resulted in much higher figures than the health department relating to the virus. By April 3, NHS England recorded 5,186 deaths in hospital of people testing positive for the virus, compared with 3,939 reported by the health department by the same date.
The ONS had received registrations of 3,950 deaths in England where the virus was mentioned on the certificate by April 3. But by April 11, the ONS said it had 5,979 registrations of people who had died by April 3. Although there are media reports of very large numbers of virus-related deaths occurring in care homes, the ONS had not seen a large spike in the certificates it received up to April 3. By that date, it had recorded 217 deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the certificates of people who had passed away in care homes.
So far in 2020, it added there had been 37,386 deaths in care homes. The relatively muted care home figures suggest a delay in reporting rather than a limited occurrence. David Behan, director of HC-One, Britain’s largest care home operator, told the BBC that Covid-19 existed in two-thirds of the group’s facilities and represented a third of deaths over the past few weeks.
The very high levels of mortality across England and Wales recorded by the ONS confirmed data from Public Health England last week that deaths were far higher than normal levels. The ONS figures up to April 3 also represent a period when daily reported deaths were increasing rapidly and before they had begun to level off as they have recently.