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expert reaction to ONS deaths registered weekly in England and Wales, provisional: week ending 28 May 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 28 May 2021.


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

“The latest ONS bulletin on deaths registered in England and Wales takes the data up to the week 22-28 May, and generally the news is very good. On deaths where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, the number in the most recent week is 95. That’s 11% lower than the previous week. It’s also lower than every week since the pandemic began, apart from the very first week when deaths involving Covid-19 were registered (week ending 13 March last year), and one other week, the week including last year’s August bank holiday, when numbers of registrations were artificially low because of the holiday. And deaths involving Covid-19 make up only 1% of all deaths registered that week – at the peak of the latest wave in late January, almost half of all registered deaths involved Covid-19. Of those 95 deaths involving Covid-19, 70 had Covid-19 as the underlying cause. (That’s slightly up on the previous week, but when numbers are this low, you’d expect some variation.) Numbers of registered deaths are down in the older age groups where most deaths involving Covid-19 have always occurred. In people aged under 50, the numbers are very low but static (8 in the most recent week, 7 in the week before), but because they are so low, there’s no real indication of a trend for the under 50s. Deaths involving Covid-19 were down in the latest week compared to the week before in England as a whole, in Wales, and in seven of the nine English regions. The exceptions were London and the North West, but the numbers are too small to conclude that things are really different in those two regions than in the rest of the country. The latest week is too long after the early May bank holiday for registrations to have been affected (though we’ll be back in bank holiday territory in next week’s release). As always, it would be clearer if we could use data on the dates people died, rather than the date the deaths were registered, but as always late registrations mean that data sorted by date of occurrence of death are too incomplete for the most recent week.

“One proviso is that people who, sadly, died of Covid in the most recent week would mostly have been infected three weeks or more before that, and the registration figures for the most recent week would include some people who died before that most recent week anyway. So the deaths registered as involving Covid-19 in the most recent week, ending 28 May, would mostly have been of people who were infected in the first week of May, or before. The upturn in new cases, as indicated on the dashboard at and in the ONS Covid-19 infection survey, didn’t happen until after the first week in May. So, if there is going to be rise in deaths involving Covid-19 because of that rise in cases, it wouldn’t have shown up yet in this week’s death registration data. It’s possible that it might show up next week, but the disruption to the registrations because of the late May bank holiday could make it difficult to detect. And it’s not yet clear that there will be much of an increase in deaths, not yet anyway, because vaccinations have changed the firm link between new cases and, later, deaths, that was always very clear-cut last year.

“Numbers of registered deaths from all causes in England and Wales are also down in the latest week, ending 28 May, compared to the previous week. However, deaths from all causes usually fall between those two weeks. All-cause deaths are below the average number for the corresponding week in 2015-19, so there are no excess deaths, but they are slightly closer to the five-year average than they were in the previous week. I don’t think the difference between the two weeks is any case for concern, though, because it’s very small – 312 below the five-year average in the most recent week, 328 below average in the week before that. Deaths from all causes were lower in the most recent week than the week before in England as a whole, and in seven of the nine English regions, but higher in the North East, the North West, and (very slightly) in Wales. Deaths are below the five-year average in most English regions and in Wales, but above the five-year average in the North East and the North West. I don’t think much can be said about detailed recent trends in all-cause deaths – nothing is far out of line with previous years, and we don’t have information yet on what caused these deaths. The numbers of deaths involving Covid-19, though, are so low that they no longer have any clear impact on the total deaths from all causes. I very much hope that position continues.”



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.”

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