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expert reaction to ONS stats on deaths registered weekly in England and Wales, provisional: week ending 19 March 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 19 March 2021.

 

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

“This week’s ONS bulletin giving provision data on death registrations continues the good news from recent weeks.  Deaths from all causes for the latest period (the week 13-19 March) are below the average level of 2015-2019 in England and Wales taken together, in each of the two countries separately, and in every one of the English regions – and generally these numbers are further below the five-year average than they were in last week’s bulletin.  Registered deaths where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate were below 1,000, at 963.  The last time weekly registered deaths involving Covid-19 fell below 1,000 was in the week ending 23 October last year.  The fall in total deaths from all causes is entirely due to the big fall in deaths involving Covid-19 – the number of deaths no involving Covid-19 was at exactly the same level (9,486) in the latest week as in the week before that.  So, in the latest week available, deaths involving Covid-19 were under 10% of all registered deaths – again, Covid-19 deaths haven’t been as low a proportion of all deaths since the week ending 23 October.  And deaths related to Covid-19 fell by a huge 36% in the latest week, compared to the week before.  They had been falling by about 28% week on week for four weeks before that, but this is even bigger.

“As in recent weeks, it’s clear that the fall is connected with the roll-out of vaccinations.  Just comparing the numbers of registered deaths involving Covid-19 by different ages in the most recent week (ending 19 March) with the week before that, the number of deaths in people aged 50-59 fell from 135 to 76, a 44% decrease in a week.  Deaths involving Covid-19 in people under 50 fell too, but by a considerably smaller percentage (28%) – though that’s still a drop of more than a quarter in just a week.  Deaths involving Covid-19 in older people, aged 60+, also fell by a smaller percentage (35%) than for people in their 50s – but that’s probably largely because the really big weekly falls in deaths in those age groups happened in earlier weeks, because they were mostly vaccinated earlier than those in their 50s.  And still a fall of over a third in a week in the 60+ group is impressively large.  These numbers will all vary from week to week anyway, particularly if the numbers of deaths fall more and more.  And there’s nothing specifically in this data source to say that the pattern of decrease with age is actually caused by vaccination – but I believe it must be caused by vaccination to a considerable degree.

“A note of caution, though.  Deaths have fallen over the weeks and months since Christmas because of lockdowns and other restrictions, as well as vaccination.  For the latest week, deaths involving Covid-19 were down by over 80% compared to the peak in mid-January, even though quite a big majority of people aged under 50 would not have been vaccinated in time to have an effect on their deaths.  As the restrictions are eased, the rate of decrease in Covid-19 deaths could reduce.  (I’d be surprised if it reversed, and Covid-19 deaths started climbing again, given that so many vaccinations have been carried out in people in the age groups most affected by serious illness and death – but we’ll see.)  And, while it’s certainly good that total deaths are below the five year average (so no excess deaths), and that deaths involving Covid-19 are at the level of mid-October, we’ve got to remember that 963 Covid-19 related deaths in a week, as in the latest week, would have looked frighteningly high last August when the figure was well below 200 a week for a whole month.  Another issue that may still need to be resolved is that deaths (from all causes) in people’s own homes are still running well above the five-year average, despite deaths overall being below average, and deaths in hospitals and in care homes also being well below average.”

 

 

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsregisteredweeklyinenglandandwalesprovisional/weekending19march2021

 

 

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

www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

 

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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