COVID-19: The latest picture as at 19th May 2020

In this week’s blog we explore the latest data, which show promising signs of death numbers coming closer to the normal levels we would expect to see at this time of year.

Weekly deaths continue to fall 

 The latest statistics from the ONS include detailed breakdowns of deaths registered in England & Wales up to 8th May. In particular, they identify deaths where there is any mention of COVID-19 somewhere 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.

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.

We can see two key, and very welcome, patterns in the chart. 

Firstly, the total number of deaths has continued to fall, and is now approaching the average levels seen over the last 5 years (the dashed blue line in the chart).  Some caution is required given that the latest week’s data shown here includes the Bank Holiday on the 8th May. As such death registration levels would be expected to be lower than on a normal day. Nonetheless the direction of travel is encouraging; and, even if we were to ratio up the deaths to allow for a full day of missed registrations, would still be on a downward trend.
 

Secondly, the deaths where there is no mention of COVID-19 on the death certificate have now fallen to below the average level for the time of year.  In previous blogs we have explored how these ‘missed’ deaths had risen markedly at the same time as the pandemic.  We can see this pattern more clearly if we consider these ‘extra’ weekly non COVID-19 deaths relative to the average.


Having seen several weeks where these ‘extra’ deaths were over 3,000 per week, this reduction to below the average for the most recent week is very welcome. This reduction below the average may simply be due to the absence of the registrations which would have occurred on the 8th May, but even adjusting for that, the level could be around 1,600 (shown in the dashed bar) and so still heading downwards. That these deaths have followed a similar pattern to the wave of COVID-19 deaths naturally leads to questions as to how closely they are associated with COVID-19. Something we will explore further in our next blog.

“It seems clear now that we are past the initial peak of COVID-19 mortality. Of course, it is too early to see the effect of the recent easing of some of the lockdown restrictions in England. As such we will be keeping a close eye on the figures over the next few weeks.”

However, some caution is also required; and not just around the implications of easing lockdown. Concerns also remain that recent reluctance to use NHS and GP services in light of the pandemic may result in increased indirect mortality in the future as a result of, for example, delays in cancer detections. 

Estimating the total toll

Last week we estimated that the total number of direct and indirect deaths from COVID-19 may have been as high as 65,000 in the UK. The latest weekly information, particularly the reduction in the weekly deaths not mentioning COVID-19 on the death certificate, suggests that this estimate may in fact be slightly on the high side. If efforts to contain the impact of the pandemic are successful, amidst the easing of restrictions, then hopefully any growth of this figure will be slow in the weeks ahead.


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