The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released provisional counts of the number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 12 February 2021.
Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, said:
“More good news from ONS on the state of the pandemic – though this week’s bulletin on death registrations in England and Wales does make it clear that we’ve still a long way to go. The bulletin takes the available data up to the week 6-12 February, and all the main measures of mortality are lower than the week before, and generally considerably lower. Total death registrations, from any cause, fell by 1,838 in a week, which is more than 10%. You’d expect total numbers of deaths to fall at this time of year as we move out of winter, but the total fell by considerably more than the average figure. Excess deaths – measured by ONS as the difference between the number of deaths in the latest week and the five-year average for 2015-2019 – were down by more than 1,500, a fall of almost one third in a week. For Wales, the number of excess deaths was very small, only 31, so that total deaths were within the range seen in 2015-2019. The situation on excess deaths isn’t so good in England, where deaths from any cause are above the five-year average in every region, and indeed over 40% above in three regions (London, the East Midlands and the East of England), but the position is still considerably better than the week before.
“Deaths involving Covid-19 have decreased too. Deaths where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate fell by 1,629 in a week, which is about 22%. For most of those deaths, Covid-19 is recorded as the underlying cause – that applies to 88.5% of the deaths involving Covid-19 registered in the week ending 12 February. But deaths where Covid-19 is the underlying cause are considerably down too for the latest week, by 23%. However, it’s still the case that a large number of deaths involve Covid-19. In the latest week, there were nearly 5,700 registered deaths involving Covid-19, which is 37% of all deaths from any cause. That’s still a huge proportion, even though it’s a little lower than the previous week (when the proportion was 43%). The impact of Covid-19 on total deaths from all causes is lessened by the fact that non-Covid deaths are over 2,000 a week below the five-year average. That’s to be expected, because, in the short term at least, lockdown measures reduce the impact of several other causes of death, such as other respiratory diseases.
“Because the number of deaths involving Covid-19 is still so high, 5,691 in the week ending 12 February, it could still take a long time for Covid-19 deaths to fall to a level where I might stop being so concerned about them. Last year, the number of deaths involving Covid-19 fell gradually after the first wave to around 100 a week by late August. As an illustration, and DEFINITELY not a forecast, if the number deaths involving Covid-19 fell each week by the same percentage as it fell over the most recent week in the ONS data, it wouldn’t get below 100 a week for 16 weeks – that is, until June. Why this definitely is not a forecast is that I’d very much hope that the reduction in deaths would be faster than in the most recent week, as vaccination makes more and more of an impact. There are already signs in these ONS results that might indicate an effect of vaccination, though it’s difficult to be entirely sure at this stage. The numbers of registered deaths involving Covid-19 fell by over a quarter in the most recent week, compared to the previous week, in people over 80 years old, by almost a fifth in those aged 70-79, but generally by rather smaller percentages in younger age groups where the vaccination rate, so far, is much lower. The larger percentage fall in the over 80s may well, in part at least, be an effect of vaccination. But, even as vaccination effects become clearer and stronger, there will be some pressures in the opposite direction as lockdown restrictions are removed. That’s why we’ve got to continue to be cautious.”
All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:
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.”