In Depth

Why coronavirus deaths are set to spike in the UK

Total number of fatalities is higher as new statistics count cases outside hospitals

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest the coronavirus death toll for England and Wales is almost 25% higher than has been previously reported.

The latest ONS data show there were 210 deaths where Covid-19 was listed as a cause in the week up to 20 March – 40 more than the 170 deaths reported by NHS England and Public Health Wales over the same period.

Of the ONS figures, 73% of all the reported deaths involved those aged 75 and over, with just one of the additional fatalities involving a person under the age of 45.

The Guardian reports that the discrepancy between the official figures is because the ONS data include deaths that occurred outside hospitals, including in homes and care homes, which take at least five days to be officially registered.

An ONS spokesperson said the figures are “based on mentions of Covid-19 on death certificates. It includes suspected cases of Covid-19 where someone has not been tested positive for Covid-19.”

Prior to the release of the ONS figures, the only death rate figures available have been the daily count from UK hospitals of patients who have tested positive.

The ONS also found that Covid-19 accounted for 1% of the UK’s total deaths in the week ending 20 March.

Owing to the time lag between the two sets of figures, The Telegraph reports that “officials are braced to see a far higher spike in coming weeks” as more deaths begin to be recorded outside of hospitals.

Officials have emphasised that the expected spike is not an indication that the government’s lockdown measures are not working.

Two of the government’s leading advisers have said that hospital admissions linked to the virus are stabilising, as the impact of social distancing measures begin to be felt. 

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The UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said yesterday that social distancing measures are “making a difference”, adding that the NHS is currently seeing around an additional 1,000 patients a day and described this daily rise as “stable”. 

Vallance said that he expected the 1,000-a-day rise in hospital patients to continue for two to three weeks, after which “you would expect that to stabilise and to start to go down a bit”.

Meanwhile, Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London, whose modelling influenced the Prime Minister’s decision to impose a nationwide lockdown, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the UK, we can see some early signs of slowing in some indicators. Less so in deaths because deaths are lagged by a long time from when the measures come into force.

“We look at the numbers of new hospital admissions today… that does seem to be slowing down a little bit now.”

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