COVID-19: The latest picture as at 23rd June 2020

In this week’s blog we explore the latest data on weekly deaths, which continue to show encouraging signs of returning towards normal levels. Concerns remain over the possibility of a resurgence of the current wave / a ‘second wave’, especially as lockdown restrictions are rapidly eased and social distancing is reduced in several parts of the UK. Monitoring the daily numbers of new positive cases will be extremely important in the weeks ahead.

Weekly deaths close to seasonal levels

The latest statistics from the ONS include detailed breakdowns of deaths registered in England & Wales up to 12th June. 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 the total registered deaths are now close to the average for the time of year, even allowing for deaths mentioning COVID-19.  This is clearly welcome news.


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.

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.

The light mauve bar in the chart above is the deaths which do not mention COVID-19 on the death certificate. These deaths have remained below the average for the fourth consecutive week.  It seems increasingly likely that the “wave” of elevated non COVID-19 deaths seen in late March and April (the red bars in the chart below) were very directly related to COVID-19 and probably contained a high level of unidentified COVID-19 cases.

Whilst it is reassuring that non COVID-19 deaths remain close to average levels, we remain cautious around the risk of another rise in deaths; particularly in the context of the continued easing of lockdown restrictions across the UK. It is therefore important to keep a close eye on daily new case figures, which will give early warning of changes in the prevalence of COVID-19 and in turn imminent rises in COVID-19 deaths.

What is the position for the year to date?

We estimate that the total death toll from COVID-19 in the UK, including both the direct and the indirect deaths (i.e. the unseasonably high excess weekly deaths shown by the red bars above), is currently around the 69,000 level. 

After a relatively light start to the year, the cumulative deaths in the UK over the first 24 weeks of the year is almost 60,000 higher than the corresponding weekly average values over the past 5 years.

While the ‘levelling off’ seen in the chart over the past few weeks is very welcome, it does highlight the impact of the pandemic over a relatively short timeframe. We have already seen excess deaths of the order of 10% of the typical annual total for the UK. Even in the unlikely event that the rest of the year is simply “average” then we will have experienced a material worsening of mortality rates in 2020, posing a number of challenges in setting longevity assumptions. We started to explore these challenges in our recent webinar, and expect to share more on this in the weeks and months 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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