Analysis suggests that UK’s pandemic death toll is twice the official COVID-19 number

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The novel coronavirus outbreak has caused as many as 41,000 deaths in the UK, according to a Financial Times analysis of statistics office data. Reuters reports that the FT extrapolation is based on the number of all fatalities in official data recorded recently that have exceeded the usual average. These figures include deaths that occurred outside hospitals.

The latest hospital death data show 17,337 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus across the UK as of Monday, 20 April. But right now, the report says, the true death toll from COVID-19 – the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus – is likely to be more than double this, based on the FT’s analysis of excess deaths in recent data.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics reported that 18,516 people died in England and Wales in the week ending 10 April, or 7,966 more than the five-year average. While the ONS records mentions of COVID-19 in death certificates, the sheer volume of extra total deaths – including those that do not mention COVID-19 – means that the true toll from the disease is being under-counted, according to the FT analysis. This indicates the “real” death toll from the coronavirus is now running around 41,000.

The report says the ONS data provided concrete examples of the under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths. The statistics showed deaths in care homes had doubled over recent weeks, but only 17% of the death certificates mentioned COVID-19.

Cambridge University professor David Spiegelhalter told the FT that it was not credible that these extra deaths could mostly come as a result of indirect effects from the coronavirus lockdown, such as seriously ill people avoiding hospital. “There is no suggestion that the collateral damage – however large it is – is anything like as big as the harm from COVID,” Spiegelhalter said.

The report says when asked about the 41,000 death figure from the FT, Helen Whately, a junior health and social care minister, said: “That is not a figure that I recognise.”

The UK is on track to record one of the worst coronavirus death tolls in Europe, after data showed nationwide fatalities topped 24,000 the week ending 17 April. Reuters Health reports that the figures showed the week was the UK’s deadliest since comparable records began in 1993.

The Office for National Statistics said 21,284 people had died in England by 17 April with mentions of COVID-19 on their death certificate. Together with figures from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the total UK death toll was at least 24,000 as of 19 April. “The UK is going to be right up there among the worst-hit nations in the initial surge,” said Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “With the most optimistic views of the amount of immunity that might be being generated, it would be still not be close to having enough to be able to return to normal,” he is quoted in the report as saying.

“The crucial part of the next stage is to have enough testing and early warning systems to avoid ending up back where the UK is now.” Unlike the hospital death tolls announced daily by the government, the ONS figures include deaths in community settings, such as care homes where overall fatalities have trebled in a few weeks.

Full Reuters report

Full Reuters report

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