COVID-19: The latest picture as at 14th July 2020

In this week’s blog we explore the latest data on weekly deaths, which have remained below normal levels for the latest reported week. Whilst this is welcome news, concerns remain over the possibility of a resurgence of the current wave / a ‘second wave’, as lockdown restrictions continue to be eased across the UK and people start to take advantage of the removal of travel restrictions and venture abroad. We also continue to see an apparent divergence in the trends across the different nations in the UK, with Scotland continuing to have more success in reducing COVID-19 deaths. Effective monitoring of the daily numbers of new positive cases will be extremely important in the weeks ahead, especially at local levels, to avoid the need to re-enter national lockdowns.

Weekly deaths remain below seasonal levels

The latest statistics from the ONS include detailed breakdowns of deaths registered in England & Wales up to 3rd July. In particular, they identify deaths where there is any mention of COVID-19 on the death certificate. Combining this information with similar data from the corresponding statistical bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland, we can examine emerging patterns in the data. The latest data shows that for the third week running, the total registered deaths in the last reported week was below the average for the time of year.  The number of COVID-19 deaths also continues to decline. The continuation of both these trends is welcome news.

Weekly figures for Scotland use a different definition of weeks, running from Monday to Sunday rather than Saturday to Friday. The chart above is based on using the Scottish data for the week ending on the Sunday immediately after the date shown on the horizontal axis. This convention is adopted in all subsequent charts in this blog.

Comparing COVID-19 experience across the home nations 

The UK has seen different approaches across each of the home nations in terms of their COVID-19 response. While lockdown was applied across the UK simultaneously, subsequent decisions around the pace and approach to unwinding the restrictions have varied. The charts below look at the how COVID-19 deaths, expressed as a percentage of the total weekly deaths, have varied across the constituent countries.

England saw the earliest and highest peak and has generally seen the largest proportion of weekly deaths across the four nations. In both England and Wales, the last few weeks have seen an apparent slowdown in the rate of decline.

In contrast Scotland continues to see a pronounced decline. In the most recent week, less than 2% of deaths were COVID related, compared to a peak of 36%.

Differences between the countries will depend on various factors, such as average age and levels of urbanisation as well as variations in lockdown restrictions. However, on the face of it, Scotland’s more measured response to COVID-19 appears to be paying continued dividends.

What is the position for the year to date?

We estimate that the total death toll from COVID-19 in the UK, including both directly and indirectly related deaths, is currently just over 70,000. 

After a relatively light start to the year, the cumulative deaths in the UK over the first 26 weeks of the year appears to have stabilised for the moment at around 60,000 higher than the corresponding weekly average values over the past 5 years.

It is reassuring that the level of excess deaths has levelled off, but this chart does serve as a reminder of the sudden and dramatic emergence of COVID-19 and its impact on UK mortality. Over the course of the year we have seen excess deaths of the order of 10% of the typical annual total for the UK. Whether we remain at broadly the 60,000 excess deaths level, drop down a little due to continued lower than average non COVID-19 deaths, or enter a fresh phase of rising excess deaths seems to be hanging in the balance… 

“All of the team at Club Vita wish to extend our condolences to anyone who has personally been touched by bereavement in recent months. We know that these deaths leave behind people who are missing loved ones. Our thoughts are with you…”

1A distinction is made by epidemiologists between a continuation of the current wave vs a second wave which would usually follow a period of absence of the virus and a secondary period of infections and deaths, possibly from a different strain.

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