COVID-19: The latest picture as at 26th May 2020

In this week’s blog we explore the latest data, which show a slight uptick in deaths compared to last week, as expected given the impact of the bank holiday, but nonetheless continue to show promising signs.

Weekly deaths bounce back slightly 

The latest statistics from the ONS include detailed breakdowns of deaths registered in England & Wales up to 15th May. 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.

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.

Last week we highlighted the substantial reduction in the weekly deaths to 8th May, but cautioned that the impact of the Friday VE Day bank holiday was likely to have suppressed reported death numbers. It is therefore unsurprising that the latest weekly deaths were slightly higher than the previous week. We often see fluctuations in weekly death counts around public holidays because registration offices are typically closed.  As most bank holidays are on Mondays in the UK, the impact on weekly deaths (which cover weeks ending on Fridays in England & Wales) is normally relatively small.  However the normal early May bank holiday was on a Friday this year as a result of the VE Day anniversary, so the impact on deaths registered that week was higher than for a normal public holiday.

However, it is encouraging to see that, despite the impact of any bank holiday lag in registrations, deaths which mention COVID-19 were at their lowest weekly level since the start of April. 

Deaths where there is no mention of COVID-19 on the death certificate have also seen an increase on the previous week. 

Again it is important to consider the impact of the VE Day holiday here – if we assume deaths for the week to 8th May were underreported, and adjust the figure for 15th May accordingly, then we could be seeing non COVID-19 deaths which were around 1,900 lower than average in the latest reported week (as shown in the dashed lines in the chart). 

Indeed, if we look at the last two weeks in aggregate, so removing the impact of the VE day holiday, the total weekly deaths excluding COVID-19 over that period is slightly below average for the two-week period, which is reassuring. 

“Despite some fluctuations due to the bank holiday, the direction of travel remains positive, as both total deaths and those mentioning COVID-19 continue to trend downwards. Of course, it remains too early to see the effect of the recent easing of some of the lockdown restrictions in England, as the other Home Nations start to lift restrictions too. As such we will be keeping a close eye on the figures over the next few weeks.”

While it seems clear that we are now well past the worst of the initial peak in deaths, concerns remain around the impact of easing lockdown, and the potential for levels of general adherence to the remaining restrictions to drop.

In addition, the impact of recent reluctance to use NHS and GP services, as well as the scaling back of hospital and health services in light of the pandemic is likely to be felt for many months to come.  Indeed we have already seen figures from Scotland which suggest a surge in deaths attributed to  Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in recent weeks.

Variations remain in location of COVID-19 deaths 

We continue to see different patterns of the location of COVID-19 deaths between the different constituent countries. 

In particular, the proportion of COVID-19 deaths occurring in care homes remains significantly higher in Scotland than in England & Wales, although it has been dropping slightly.  Correspondingly the proportion of deaths occurring in a hospital setting is significantly lower in Scotland than England & Wales.  This could be suggestive of differing practices in the hospitalisation of COVID-19 cases in Scottish care homes compared to England & Wales. Again, it is reassuring to see numbers of deaths continuing to fall in each country.

“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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