The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released provisional counts of the number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 4 June 2021.
Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, said:
“The latest weekly ONS bulletin on deaths registered in England and Wales takes the provisional numbers up to the week from 29 May to 4 June. That week included the Spring (late May) bank holiday, and that makes the short-term trends pretty well impossible to evaluate for the latest week. That is particularly unhelpful, because a good indication of deaths involving Covid-19 for that week could have been particularly informative. The latest week is three weeks after the lifting of restrictions for step 3 of England’s roadmap out of lockdown on 17 May, so any deaths resulting from infections in just after that might have shown up in the latest data, allowing for the usual interval between infection and death. Mid-May is also when the Delta variant was becoming dominant, so any effect on deaths from that could have shown up. But we haven’t got good data, so I won’t comment in detail on short-term trends for the latest week. Late registrations because of the bank holiday mean that it’s not at all surprising that the total numbers of registered deaths from all causes is lower than the previous week, but we can’t tell yet if that’s a real decrease.
“However, there are some points about registered deaths involving Covid-19 in the latest week that are discouraging. Despite the overall decrease in registered deaths because of the bank holiday, the numbers of deaths in England and Wales where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate rose slightly, to 98 from 95 the previous week. Very likely, when we eventually get the complete data classified by the date when the death occurred rather than when it was registered, that rise will be rather larger. Those numbers are still very small indeed compared to most of the pandemic, but a rise is not good news after consistent decreases every week since mid-January. Also, deaths involving Covid-19 made up 1.3% of all registered deaths for the most recent week. Again that’s still very small, but it’s an increase on the previous week when the figure was 1.0%, and that comes after 18 weeks of consistent decrease.
“I don’t think this is a major cause for concern, not yet anyway, and it’s probably important to note that Covid-19 was coded as the underlying cause of death for only 57 of the 98 deaths in the latest week where it was mentioned on the certificate. (That doesn’t mean that Covid-19 had no role in the other 41 deaths – if it played no role at all, the doctor wouldn’t have put it on the certificate, so these are not people who died of something entirely unrelated but just happened to have tested positive for the virus.) All these deaths are important and sad events for the families and friends of the person who died, but the numbers are still small. What’s important is that a close eye is kept on how the numbers change as the Delta variant becomes more and more established.
“The reason for the disruption to the death registration data in bank holiday weeks is that registry offices aren’t open at all the usual times, and many deaths will be registered later than usual. The late registrations from the holiday week will eventually occur, many of them in the following week, so that the figures in next week’s ONS bulletin will also be somewhat problematic to interpret (though less so than this week). Also, it can be misleading to compare this year’s numbers with the five-year average for the corresponding weeks in 2015-19, because the bank holiday does not occur in the same numbered week every year. ONS also release data on the numbers of deaths classified by the date the death occurred, rather than the date it was registered. But that doesn’t help yet either, in relation to the latest week, because many deaths in that week still wouldn’t have been registered by the cut-off for this bulletin, so the count is incomplete.”
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.”