COVID-19: UK's daily death figures are grim, but things are still not as bad last spring

·3-min read

More than 1,000 deaths.

The highest number of COVID-19 fatalities announced since the pandemic began.

An even higher figure than last spring.

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It is possible, when glancing at the headlines on COVID-19, to get the impression that things are utterly, apocalyptically bad.

But even though the pandemic is undoubtedly taking many lives, it is important to remain as cool-headed as we can about these numbers.

For a deeper look at them shows you that the story isn't quite as dramatic as some of the headlines might suggest.

Now, looking at death statistics is not a job anyone relishes.

Beneath these figures are thousands of stories of personal tragedy, with hundreds of thousands of families across the country affected directly or indirectly.

But look at these numbers we must, since they help show us the extent to which this disease is spreading - which in turn gives us a sense of how many more restrictions on our lives are likely in the coming weeks.

It is certainly true that many deaths have been announced over the past few days, and it is highly likely that many more will be announced in the coming days.

But is this really a worse moment for mortality than in the spring, when the country faced that first dramatic wave of the virus? Not necessarily - at least not yet.

The important thing to remember here is that the number of deaths announced each day can be quite volatile, as it depends on when those deaths are registered.

The number is especially volatile at the moment since we had a number of bank holidays over the Christmas and New Year period.

In other words, if you want to look at the deaths numbers to get a sense of how the pandemic is spreading, you need to be very cautious with those daily announced deaths figures.

A more appropriate way of comparing this period with the spring is to look at these deaths by the date they occur, rather than the date they are registered.

These figures are somewhat less up-to-date but they are at least properly comparable.

And on the basis of deaths by occurrence, they are climbing but have not reached the levels they did in the spring, when they peaked at over 1,000 deaths in a single day.

This is not to say we will not surpass that depressing number.

If the growth in deaths continues as it has done in recent weeks we may reach that miserable milestone in a week or two. However, we are not there yet.

In one sense these distinctions do not matter; after all, what really matters for most of us is the terrible toll of the virus on our lives and those of our families and friends.

Even a slowly rising curve still means more people are dying.

However in another sense it does matter greatly, since this statistic is one of the main ways of tracking how fast the virus is spreading.

If we give ourselves the impression that the spread is more rapid than in the spring that would give rise to more fear than is justified by the current situation (which, don't get me wrong, is still very serious and very concerning).

We will keep a close eye on these figures in the coming weeks to gauge whether there is any improvement.

The good news is that it does look as if case growth might be slowing.

The bad news is that for the time being hospital numbers are still rising and that implies more deaths to come.