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expert reaction to latest ONS stats on deaths registered weekly in England and Wales, provisional: week ending 27 August 2021

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released provisional counts of the number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 27 August 2021.


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

“The age-distribution for occurrences of COVID-mention deaths in wave 3 on or after 5 June 2021 (thus far registered) versus those which occurred on or before 4 June 2021 is shown below for England and Wales.

“Due largely to vaccination and variant, the age distribution is strikingly younger for the 3,926 COVID-mention deaths in England and Wales thus far in wave 3 versus COVID-mention deaths which occurred earlier in the pandemic, that is: up to 4 June 2021. In the current wave, 18% of COVID-mention death occurrences are persons under 60 years of age versus only 7% hitherto.

“Duration of hospitalization may be different for hospitalized SARS-CoV-2 cases during wave 3 by dint of patients’ age  or vaccination-status or due to the delta variant.


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

“This latest ONS bulletin giving provisional numbers of death registrations take the data up to the week 21-27 August. It’s not very good news. On death registrations where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, the numbers for the latest week are up by not much less than a fifth (18%) compared to the previous week, at a total of 769 for the most recent week. The last time it was that high was at the end of March this year. Also, the weekly numbers of registered deaths involving Covid-19 for the UK were less than this latest week’s level in every week between mid-June and mid-October 2020. Numbers of deaths involving Covid-19 are up, compared to the week before, in England by 18%, in Scotland by 17%, and in Northern Ireland by 23%. In Wales the picture is a bit brighter, with deaths down to 16 in the most recent week compared to 18 the week before, a fall of 11%, and in any case 16 is a very low weekly number of deaths compared to the other UK countries. (For instance, it’s less than a third of the number, 53, for the most recent week in Northern Ireland, despite the Welsh population being well over one and a half times as big as the Northern Irish population.) The numbers of Covid-related deaths in all but two of the English regions are higher in the most recent week than the week before – the exceptions are the West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber – and indeed they are up by almost two thirds compared to the previous week in the South East and the South West.

“It’s not surprising, for several reasons (vaccinations, changes in working patterns, the removal of lockdowns, and so on) that the people who, sadly, do die of reasons involving Covid-19, are on average younger than they were during the pandemic peak at the start of 2021. For the UK as a whole, in the most recent week, 1 in 23 of the death registrations mentioning covid-19 were of someone aged under 45. Back in January and February this year, the corresponding figure was about 1 in 85.

“The increase in Covid-related death registrations comes after last week’s bulletin showing almost no change in registrations with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate, compared to the previous week, across all four UK countries. It does correspond, though only roughly, to the pattern in the numbers of deaths within 28 days of a person’s first positive Covid test, as reported daily and on the dashboard at, where the numbers (classified by when the person died, rather than when their death was reported) rose for the week ending 27 August by 17% compared to the previous week. Those dashboard numbers had also risen for the week ending 20 August compared to the week before that, though by considerably less (about 8%). There are many reasons why the numbers from these different sources may not correspond closely. But the broadly similar patterns from the two sources of data do indicate that the change in the trend in registrations, with a fairly substantial increase in the most recent week, represents a real change in numbers of people dying. It isn’t just some effect of a change in the time it takes to register deaths, for instance. (However, delays in registrations will be an important issue in next week’s ONS release, because the most recent figures next week will include the late August Bank Holiday in all the UK countries except Scotland, and that always makes the numbers of registrations difficult to interpret.)

“This ONS bulletin concentrates, as always, on the figures for England and Wales, and the detail that it gives for deaths from all causes is mostly just for those two countries. On all-cause deaths, the number in the latest week (ending 27 August) is up slightly compared to the previous week. For the eighth week running, so since early July, there have been more registered deaths (from any cause) each week in England and Wales than the average of the five years 2015-19, so that excess deaths are occurring. For the most recent week, the number of registered deaths was 1,111 above the five-year average – that’s 12% above average. Those excess numbers do fluctuate from week to week, but have been at roughly this level, roughly 1,000 excess deaths each week, since late July. The excess isn’t due to deaths directly involving Covid-19, because for the eight weeks since late July, there have still been several hundred excess deaths even if you take away all the Covid-related deaths from the excess death total. For the most recent week, there were 443 excess deaths registered in England and Wales, where the deceased person did not have Covid-19 mentioned on their death certificate. The ONS bulletin does also give the excess deaths for the whole UK for the latest week, and there were 1,251 of them, of which 482 did not directly involve Covid-19. It’s still not at all clear, to me at least, what the reason for these non-Covid excess deaths is. The very hot weather that many of us had in mid-July certainly increased numbers of deaths quite a lot for a couple of weeks, as very hot spells always do. But since then, though the weather has been disappointingly grey in many places, it hasn’t generally been particularly hot (or cold). These weekly ONS bulletins do not give much information on cause of death, except for deaths involving Covid-19 and also deaths involving influenza and pneumonia, and there’s no clear sign that the excess deaths are due to increases in influenza and pneumonia. We might know more when the ONS monthly bulletin on death registrations, covering August, comes out on 21 September, though it remains to be seen whether the pattern of causes will be clearer then.”



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 its Advisory Committee.  I am also a member of the Public Data Advisory Group, which provides expert advice to the Cabinet Office on aspects of public understanding of data during the pandemic.  My quote above is in my capacity as an independent professional statistician.”

None others received.

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