The number of deaths involving coronavirus in the UK reached its lowest weekly level for six weeks in May, new figures show.
There were 4,210 deaths involving Covid-19 registered in the week ending May 15, according to the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It is the lowest weekly total since the week ending April 3, when 3,801 Covid-19-related deaths were registered.
The percentage of deaths involving Covid-19 and the total number of excess deaths compared with the five-year average continued to decrease.
But the total number of deaths from all causes rose by 1,916 to 14,573 – with an increase being registered after a dip during the early May bank holiday.
The ONS said trends over these two weeks “should therefore be interpreted with caution”.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the figures are a “stark reminder that lockdown measures have made such a difference”.
He said: “Tens of thousands of lives have been saved and that is why it is still so important to follow guidance in the coming weeks, even though that guidance will change and become nuanced.
“A second spike of infections would be a disaster and must be avoided.”
For the first time, deaths in care homes accounted for more than half of the total number of deaths with Covid-19.
On May 9 there were 214 deaths in care homes – 51% of the total, while 191 (46%) took place in hospitals.
There were 4,461 deaths from all causes in care homes in England and Wales in the week ending May 15 – 2,468 more than the five-year average, the Alzheimer’s Society said.
Overall up to May 15, a third of deaths involving coronavirus took place outside hospital – the majority in care homes.
The figures take the total number of deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK to more than 47,000.
They show that 42,173 deaths involving Covid-19 occurred in England and Wales up to May 15 (and had been registered up to May 23).
The latest figures from the National Records of Scotland, published last week, showed 3,546 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in Scotland up to May 17.
And the latest figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, also published last week, showed 664 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in Northern Ireland up to May 20.
Together, these figures mean that so far 46,383 deaths have been registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases.
A further 964 hospital patients in England who had tested positive for Covid-19 died between May 16 and May 24, according to figures published on Monday by NHS England – which, together with the total figure of 46,383 registered deaths, indicates the overall death toll for the UK is now just over 47,300.
The number of excess deaths in the UK since the coronavirus outbreak began is nearly 60,000.
Tuesday’s ONS figures show 53,960 excess deaths in England and Wales between March 21 and May 15 2020.
The National Records of Scotland found there were 4,434 excess deaths in Scotland between March 23 and May 17, while the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency put the figure for Northern Ireland at 834 excess deaths between March 21 and May 15.
Together, this means the total number of excess deaths in the UK across this period now stands at 59,228.
All figures are based on death registrations.
Over the first two weeks in May there were 27,230 deaths registered in England and Wales – 37.8% above the five-year average.
This is a fall from the week ending May 1, when deaths were 80.6% above the five-year average.
Nuffield Trust deputy director of research Sarah Scobie said excess deaths will continue to be registered weekly “for some time yet”.
In care homes, the number of Covid-19-related deaths remained stable, with 1,660 taking place in the week ending May 15 in England and Wales, compared with 1,666 in the previous seven days.
The proportion of deaths in care homes that involved coronavirus fell to 37%, from 39% the previous week.
The Health Foundation said protecting those needing social care should be “given more obvious priority”.
Chief executive Dr Jennifer Dixon said: “Targeted action to tackle local outbreaks in care homes must include effective testing and tracing, and ensuring consistent supplies of PPE to prevent a further spike in avoidable deaths.”
The North West had the largest number of Covid-19-related deaths for the second week running, and overtook London as the region with the highest proportion of deaths involving coronavirus.
Almost a third – 31% – of deaths registered in the North West that week mentioned coronavirus – the first time since the week ending March 13 that London has not had the highest proportion.