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expert reaction to latest ONS stats on deaths registered weekly in England and Wales, provisional: week ending 5 November 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 5 November 2021.


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

“Tracking COVID-mention deaths by week of occurrence matters.  Registration delays are longer in England & Wales than in Scotland.

“In England & Wales, wave 1 accounted for 52,000 COVID-mention deaths (to nearest 1000), the peak weekly toll having been 8,350 deaths (nearest 10).  Wave 2 in England & Wales accounted for 69% more COVID-mention deaths (88,000 to nearest 1000) with a weekly peak of 9,030 deaths (nearest 10).

“Wave 3 for England & Wales is shown below from early June 2021: the return to English schools on 1 September 2021 was associated with an upswing.  However, as mid-term break approached, weekly occurrences of COVID-mention deaths had remained below 1,000 per week.  With both pupils and universities returned by 1 November 2021, and as autumn turns to winter, renewed caution is needed: COVID-mention deaths which occurred in the last week of October and first week of November are likely to have exceeded 980 per week.

“The age-distribution for occurrences of COVID-mention deaths in wave 3 prior to 6 November 2021 (and registered by mid-November) versus those prior to week ending 11 June 2021 is shown below.

“Due largely to vaccination and variant, the age distribution is strikingly younger for the 12,182 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, 14.3% of COVID-death occurrences are persons under 60 years of age (95% CI: 16% to 18%) versus only 7.0% hitherto.

“The younger age of COVID-mention deaths currently means that around 3 more years of expected life-time are sacrificed per COVID-mention death in wave 3 than in waves 1+2.  Fortunately, however, the total number of COVID-mention deaths in wave 3 is substantially lower: currently below one-tenth of the toll in waves 1+2.”


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

“The latest weekly ONS bulletin giving provisional numbers of death registrations in England and Wales, with some figures for the whole UK, takes the numbers up to the week 30 October to 5 November.  On deaths where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, the latest position across the UK isn’t very encouraging.  The total number for the latest week is 1,194, which is 14% higher than the week before.  That is the highest number of Covid-related death registrations in any week since the week ending 12 March this year.  The numbers have been rising pretty consistently, week on week, since mid-June, with the exception of just two weeks at the end of September and start of October.

“Numbers of Covid-related death registrations rose in the most recent week, compared to the week before, in all four of the UK countries taken separately, and also in seven of the nine English regions.  (In the two regions where the numbers fell, the falls were very small, with 4 fewer deaths in the North West and just 1 fewer in the West Midlands.)  In England and Wales, Covid-related death registrations in the latest week made up 8.6%, or about 1 in every 12, of all death registrations that week.  That percentage is the highest it’s been since the week ending 19 March.

“As always, not all registered deaths where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate had Covid-19 recorded as the underlying cause of death.  However, it was the underlying cause for the great majority, about 87% of all the Covid-related death registrations in the most recent week.  Even in the deaths where Covid-19 is not classified as the underlying cause, the certifying doctor would not have mentioned it on the death certificate as a contributory factor if it had played no role in the end of like of the person who, sadly, died.  So this isn’t like the numbers of deaths within 28 days of a positive test, on the dashboard at, where in some cases, though probably only a few, the deceased person would have died of something entirely unrelated to Covid-19.

“There’s quite a possibility that this depressing trend may change soon, at least for a short time.  The dashboard figure for UK Covid deaths, classified by the date when the person died, has been falling since roughly the end of October.  So the latest week in the ONS death registrations release roughly corresponds to the peak level on the dashboard, if one allows for a short delay between when a person dies and when their death is registered.  Therefore we might well see numbers of death registrations beginning to fall in next week’s ONS release.  But, given that the numbers of new confirmed cases on the dashboard have been oscillating up and down around a fairly steady level for at least a couple of months now, with some evidence of a very recent rise, and given that we’re getting further into the cold seasons of the year when most respiratory diseases have their greatest impact, it’s impossible for me to be confident about the longer-term trend in Covid-related death registrations.

“The position on death registrations from all causes in England and Wales is that the total number went up in the latest week compared to the week before, by 17%, to 11,550.  Numbers of deaths from all causes do usually increase at this time of year, but the total number remains above the average for the corresponding week in the five years 2015-19.  So, on that definition, we still have excess deaths, as we have had for eighteen straight weeks now, and not all those excess deaths are due to Covid-19.  And we’re still seeing considerable excess numbers of deaths in people’s own homes, compared to the 2015-19 average, with most of those deaths not involving Covid-19. In the most recent week there were 891 excess deaths at home that did not involve Covid-19 – that’s about 127 a day.”



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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