UK heatwave may have killed ‘jumbo jet’ full of people in a week

·2-min read
People on the beach at Saltburn-by-the-Sea in North Yorkshire - Owen Humphreys/PA
People on the beach at Saltburn-by-the-Sea in North Yorkshire - Owen Humphreys/PA

The recent heatwave may have killed the equivalent of a “jumbo jet full” of people in a week, experts have said, as official figures showed 400 more non-Covid deaths than normal.

Latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 800 excess deaths were recorded in the week ending July 23, half of which were not caused by Covid.

Experts said the rise in non-Covid deaths coincided with the heatwave, where temperatures regularly rose above 86F (30C) amid the fifth warmest July on record.

Prof Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology at the University of Reading, said: “Less than half of deaths registered suggest Covid-19 as a cause.

“While the true cause of these extra deaths will need to be investigated more closely, this was the week of the heatwave across a large part of the country, with maximum temperatures reaching the 30s and minimum temperatures not dipping much below the high teens.

“We know from past experience that in such hot conditions, vulnerable people can die. This data is the first indication that this is what happened during the July heatwave. The heat may have just killed the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people over the space of a week.”

The hot weather led the Met Office to issue its first warning for heat risk on July 18.

Britain recorded 392 deaths from coronavirus in the week ending July 23, a 46 per cent increase from the week before.

However, it is well below the level seen at the peak of the second wave, when more than 8,000 deaths were recorded in the week ending Jan 29.

The number of people testing positive for coronavirus continued to fall on Tuesday, with 21,691 cases reported, down from 23,511 a week ago.

Admissions have also fallen, with 731 patients admitted to hospital on July 30, down from 826 the previous day, and 853 a week ago.

Prof Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said: “For deaths involving Covid-19, the increase in registrations for the latest week (July 17-23) compared to the previous week isn’t surprising.

“There has been a lot of discussion about the reasons for the downturn in the daily counts of new confirmed cases but that did not start until about July 20 in England and Wales (in terms of the date when the person’s positive test was taken).

“There’s inevitably a delay between changes in new cases and changes in patterns of deaths, because if, sadly, a person dies from Covid-19, that won’t happen (on average) for two or three weeks after their symptoms begin.

“So the people whose deaths were registered in the most recent week in this ONS bulletin would have been infected well before confirmed cases began to fall.”

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