In Focus

Coronavirus: 2020 sees largest annual increase in deaths since WW2

Excess fatalities in the UK rose to levels not seen since wartime

Excess deaths in England and Wales rose by 15% in 2020, marking the largest year-on-year increase since the Second World War.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that there were 608,002 deaths registered in England and Wales last year, up from 530,841 in 2019. It marks the highest total number of deaths since 1918, when there were 611,861.

Last year also saw the first double-digit increase in excess deaths since 1940, which had 16% more deaths than 1939. Excess deaths represent the number of fatalities beyond the expected number of deaths based on the data over the previous five years.

Almost 168,000 of last year’s deaths occurred in private homes. Matthew Reed, chief executive of Marie Curie a charity providing support to people with terminal illnesses, told The Times that “a silent crisis has been raging behind closed doors and we are concerned that many people who died at home this year have not had the care they needed”.

Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said that the UK has more excess deaths per million people than most European countries and the US, adding: “It will take a public inquiry to determine exactly what went wrong, but mistakes have been made.”

However, while “at first glance it does appear that we had a dreadful death toll... this is not the full picture because it fails to take into account the growing and ageing population”, The Telegraph says.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were around 40 million people living in the country, a figure that has now risen to more than 67.8 million. “If adjusted as a proportion of the population, 2020 had only the highest crude death rate since 2003,” the paper adds.

Experts have suggested that more deaths will likely be added to the 2020 total in the coming weeks because of a lag in death registrations over the Christmas period.

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