Coronavirus: Total deaths higher than figures released by government, new stats reveal

Conrad Duncan

The UK death toll from coronavirus has been revealed to be higher than previously reported following the release of statistics for the number of people who have died outside of hospital with Covid-19.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed 210 deaths involving Covid-19 had occurred in England and Wales by 20 March, up from the 170 deaths reported by the government – an increase of more than 20 per cent. 

Statistics released by the government had previously shown the number of deaths in hospitals related to the virus but not included deaths in the wider community, such as care homes.

The ONS looked at deaths registered in England and Wales where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including in combination with other health conditions.

The difference with death figures published by NHS England and Public Health Wales was due to different methods of counting and reporting, the organisation said.

There is usually a delay of at least five days between a death occurring and registration.

Government figures have shown the number of deaths occurring in hospitals in the UK among patients who have tested positive for coronavirus.

The ONS has said it will release more detailed breakdowns for the figures as soon as possible, potentially including information on what other health conditions contributed to the deaths.

“Numbers produced by ONS are much slower to prepare, because they have to be certified by a doctor, registered and processed,” Sarah Caul, head of mortality analysis at the ONS, said.

“But once ready, they are the most accurate and complete information.”

It is unclear at this time whether ONS data for last week – when the government began reporting more than 100 daily deaths – will significantly increase the coronavirus death toll in the UK.

The Department of Health and Social Care had reported 1,408 deaths related to Covid-19, as of 5pm on 29 March.

Although the UK’s death toll has been lower than some of the worst-hit countries such as Italy, where more than 11,000 people have died, the country is still on track to record a similar number of deaths if it does not slow the spread of its epidemic.

On Monday, Professor Neil Ferguson, a scientist at Imperial College London who has been advising the government, said the epidemic was “just about slowing” in the UK due to lockdown measures introduced last week.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, has said the restrictions – which have seen public transport use fall to less than a quarter of normal levels – were already having a “big effect” on the transmission of the virus.

He said this would lead to fewer people being admitted to hospital and ultimately reduce the total fatality figure.

Sir Patrick added that the government believed it was now tracking France‘s trajectory rather than the paths of worse-hit countries, such as Italy and Spain.

Additional reporting by Reuters