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Source: United Kingdom – Executive Government & Departments

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released provisional counts of the number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 4 December 2020.

Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, said:

“Usually at this time of year, judging by the average over the last 5 years, numbers of deaths are increasing slowly week on week.  In the weekly death registration figures for England and Wales, released by ONS, the number of deaths registered in the most recent available week (ending 4 December) is lower than the week before, in contrast to the usual trend.  The number of excess deaths – the difference between weekly deaths this year and the average for the previous five years – is down too.  So is the number of deaths registered where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, and that’s been increasing since early September until the latest week.

“That’s all positive news, indicating that  a couple of weeks ago, things were moving in the right direction.  But the news isn’t all good.  The number of deaths, for all causes, in the latest week was still 15% higher than the 5-year average – that’s 1,608 deaths more than would be expected.  There were still 2,835 deaths involving Covid-19, which is almost a quarter of all deaths that week.  While deaths involving Covid-19 were down in Wales and in most regions of England, compared to the week before, that wasn’t the case in the East of England, London, and the West Midlands (though the increase in the West Midlands was proportionally smaller than in London and the East).  And numbers of deaths from all causes were running above the five-year average level in every region of England and in Wales.

“It’s also important to remember that these death registrations are a lagging indicator of the progress of infection.  That’s for two reasons – the registration figures can’t be published until a week and a half after the end of the latest week that they cover, because it takes time to register and record the data, and also, in the sad event that someone dies from Covid-19, that will typically be around three weeks after they were first infected.  So people whose deaths involved Covid-19 in the latest week would, on average, have been infected in early to mid November.  That was about the time that infections were beginning to fall from their peak in the second wave, according to other data sources (the ONS infection survey, Imperial College’s REACT-1 survey, and the daily figures for confirmed cases on the dashboard at  Therefore isn’t not surprising that numbers of deaths are falling in these latest death registration counts, and that’s no indication that they will continue to fall.  The upturn in numbers of confirmed cases on the dashboard, that is rightly causing concern and has already led to Government actions, started at the beginning of December and can’t therefore show up in death registrations yet – though it did begin rather earlier in London and in the East of England, and that may well be linked to the increase in death registrations involving Covid-19 in the latest registration figures.

“One other piece of possibly encouraging news in the latest death registration data is that the number of excess deaths at home has fallen slightly.  In the week ending 4 December, there were 738 more deaths in people’s own private homes than the five-year average, and that’s down from levels of roughly a thousand each week for the previous six weeks.  But that’s still around 100 more deaths at home each day than usual, with the great majority of them not involving Covid-19.  I still do now know why this is happening.”

Prof Sheila Bird, Formerly Programme Leader, MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge, said:

“Provisional counts for COVID-mention deaths by date of occurrence are key data.  They show a continued November slow-down.  And the glimmer of an early December down-turn in England and Wales.  Please, let us not relax our guard in December 2020.  There are lives to save over the next 12 winter weeks.

“My table, updated from last week, shows COVID-mention deaths in England & Wales (by week of occurrence) from early September to early December 2020.  The cumulative 2nd wave total of COVID-mention deaths that have occurred by 4 December is 18,600 (to the nearest 100).

“Not all deaths which occurred in the week ending 4 December 2020 have yet been registered.  Taking registration delay into account, we can expect that 2,780 COVID-mention deaths may have occurred in England & Wales in the week ended 4 December 2020, see Table.

“This week gives further support for down-turn in COVID-mention deaths when registration delay is adjusted for.  Happily, the most recent fortnightly multipliers in turquoise (2835/2193 = 1.29) and yellow (3000/2590 = 1.16) are decreasing.  If the yellow multiplier continued to apply, we’d expect around 3280 COVID-mention to have occurred in the week ending 4 December.  But, using registration-day as the basis for my estimation, we are running noticeably lower at 2780.

“COVID-mention deaths in Wave 2 show the glimmer of a turned-down and so we must be especially on-guard in December so that the lustre lingers.”

As shown above, Wave 1 for E&W summed = 48,520 COVID-mention deaths (nearest 10)

As shown above, Wave 2 for E&W summed = 18,610 COVID-mention deaths (nearest 10)

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

Declared interests

Prof Kevin McConway: “I am a Trustee of the SMC and a member of the Advisory Committee, but my quote above is in my capacity as a professional statistician.”

None others received.

MIL OSI United Kingdom