Weekly deaths

Flu and Pneumonia Deaths Now 10 Times Higher Than Covid Deaths

The latest data from the ONS, published today, reveals that just 84 people died of Covid in England and Wales in the week ending June 11th, less than 10% of deaths from flu and pneumonia and one of the lowest weekly totals since the pandemic began. Sarah Knapton, the Telegraph‘s Science Editor, has more.

The number of people dying with flu and pneumonia on their death certificate in England and Wales is now ten times higher than those with Covid, figures show.

Latest weekly data on deaths from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows there were just 84 deaths mentioning Covid in the week ending June 11. In contrast, there were 1,163 deaths involving flu and pneumonia.

Registered Covid deaths fell by 14% since the last update in the week ending June 4th, when there were 98 deaths recorded.

Covid deaths now make up just 0.8% of all deaths – down from 1.3% in the previous week, despite the fact that week included the late May bank holiday, which meant there were fewer death registrations.

The latest figure of 84 deaths is only the third time the weekly total has dipped below 100 since last September, and is one of the lowest since the pandemic began.

Worth reading in full.

England and Wales See Seventh Consecutive Week of Negative Excess Deaths

The ONS announced today that there were 9,941 deaths in England and Wales in the week ending April 23rd, which is 497 fewer than the previous week. In addition, this week’s number is 5% below the five-year average, and marks the seventh consecutive week of “negative excess deaths”. Here’s the chart from the ONS:

Over the last seven weeks of ONS reports, there were 5,511 fewer deaths than you’d expect based on the average of the last five years. And recall that, because the population is ageing, the five-year average slightly understates the expected number of deaths. So the true level of “negative excess mortality” is even higher.

The number of deaths registered in the week ending April 23rd was below the five-year average in eight out of nine English regions. (Only London saw positive excess deaths.) Compared to the five-year average, weekly deaths were 6.8% lower in Wales, and 8.1% lower in the South East.

At the beginning of April, David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters wrote a piece suggesting a number of possible reasons for the low number of deaths in England and Wales: mild weather; fewer road accidents and flu deaths due to lockdown; and deaths having been “brought forward” by the pandemic.

Given that we are no longer in winter or the flu season, and there has been an increase in mobility since March, it seems unlikely that the first three factors they mentioned can account for more than a small share of the “negative excess deaths” observed in April. Rather, this phenomenon is probably explained by deaths having been “brought forward” by the pandemic.

Deaths In England and Wales Now 5% Below the Five-Year Average

The ONS announced today that there were 10,045 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending March 26th. This is 266 fewer than the previous week (which was the lowest since 2014 for that week). In addition, this week’s number is 5% below the five-year average, and marks the third consecutive week of “negative excess deaths”. Here’s the chart from the ONS:

Over the last three weeks of ONS reports, there were 1,800 fewer deaths than you’d expect based on the average of the last five years. (And note that, because the population is ageing, the five-year average slightly understates the expected number of deaths.)

What’s more, the number of deaths registered in the week ending March 26th was below the five-year average in seven out of nine English regions. (Only the East Midlands and West Midlands saw positive excess deaths.) Compared to the five-year average, weekly deaths were 7.5% lower in London, 9.3% lower in the South West, and a remarkable 10.7% lower in the East of England.

As I’ve noted before, there are several possible reasons why the number of deaths is so low at the moment. But whatever the exact reason, or mix of reasons, today’s numbers are surely cause for optimism.

It’s Time to Retire the ‘Deaths Within 28 Days of a Positive Test’ Chart

The BBC and other media outlets continue to post the chart showing the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test. And this is the first chart you see after clicking ‘Deaths’ on the government’s COVID-19 dashboard. Here it is below:

However, the chart gives a very misleading impression of the relative severity of the first and second waves. It has been claimed, for example, that the second wave was “more deadly” than the first. And in fact, if you sum the figures under each of the two curves in the chart above, you find that the total for the second wave is more than double the total for the first wave.

But simply counting the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test isn’t the best way to gauge COVID-19’s impact on mortality. This method understates the number of deaths in the first wave because some people died of COVID-19 without being tested. And it overstates the number of deaths in the second wave because some people who would have died anyway happened to test positive.

As Sarah Caul (the Head of Mortality Analysis at the ONS) has noted, “For the best comparisons, we really need to look at age-standardised mortality rates.” These take into account the ages of those who died, as well as the age-structure of the overall population. The ONS recently calculated weekly age-standardised mortality rates going back to 2015. They then calculated excess mortality for 2020 and 2021 by taking the age-standardised mortality rate in each week, subtracting the average over the last five years, and then expressing the difference as a percentage of that average. Here’s the chart they produced:

Although the figures only go up to February 12th, they indicate that the second wave was actually less deadly than the first. It’s time to retire the ‘deaths within 28 days of a positive test’ chart. At the very least, it should only be posted alongside the chart showing age-standardised excess mortality – which gives a much more accurate picture of the UK’s pandemic.

Weekly Deaths in England and Wales Now Lowest Since 2014

There were 10,311 deaths registered in England and Wales during the week ending March 19th. The weekly number of deaths was below the five-year average in both nations, as this chart from the ONS indicates:

In a piece for The Observer, David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters note that 10,311 deaths is the lowest figure since 2014 for the same week (i.e., the week ending on or around March 19th). This is noteworthy, given that the number of deaths in England and Wales has been trending upward since 2011, due to population ageing (the increase in the number of people in the oldest age-groups).

The authors suggest several reasons why the number of deaths is so low at the moment. First, the weather is fairly mild. Second, because of the lockdown, there are fewer road accidents than usual (though this is a minor contributor). Third, there are fewer flu deaths than usual: the influenza virus is less infectious than SARS-CoV-2 (it has a lower reproduction number) meaning that lockdowns and social distancing have resulted in fewer people catching flu this year. Fourth, some of the people who would have died now sadly lost their lives in the spring of 2020 or the winter of 2020-21 instead. (One could say their deaths were “brought forward” by the pandemic.)

Spiegelhalter and Masters’ article is worth reading in full.