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expert reaction to the ONS release on deaths registered in England and Wales, provisional: week ending 13 November 2020

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released provisional counts of the number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 13 November 2020.


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

“The most positive thing I can find to say about the ONS weekly data on death registrations is that, for the latest week available (ending 13 November) the week-on-week rise in deaths involving Covid-19 is relatively a bit smaller than in recent weeks. The same goes for excess deaths (that is, how many more deaths occurred in each week than the average of the corresponding week in the previous five years, 2015-2019). Deaths are still rising, but a bit more slowly than they were. I’d be happier if the rise had been even smaller, and delighted if the numbers of deaths had started to go down, and they haven’t – but death registrations lag well behind numbers of new infections, so I wouldn’t really have expected a fall yet. The lag is for two reasons. First, it takes some weeks for a newly infected person to become very ill and, sadly, die, if that happens. Second, it takes a time after death until the death is registered and recorded by ONS.

“The numbers of deaths at home are still running considerably above the average of the previous five years. Nearly 1,000 more this week, again. That’s about 40% of the five-year average. In other words, for every 10 deaths at home that occurred in the corresponding week in the previous 5 years, there were 14 this year, in the week ending 13 November. Most of those deaths don’t have Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate at all. I have still not seen any clear data on why this is happening, and I’m certainly still concerned about it.”


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

“Key data from Office for National Statistics are provisional counts of COVID-mention deaths by date of occurrence. My table, updated from last week, contrasts COVID-mention deaths in England & Wales (by week of occurrence) in early March to early May 2020 with early September to mid November 2020. The cumulative 2nd wave total of COVID-mention deaths that have occurred by  13th November is 10,000 (to the nearest 100).

“Not all deaths which occurred in the week ending 13 November 2020 have yet been registered. Taking registration delay into account, we may expect that 2600 COVID-mention deaths may have occurred in England & Wales in the week ended 13 November 2020, see Table.

“Until last week, I had estimated next week’s final total on the basis that the impact of tier-measures from early October had not kicked-in. But those measures have had impact! Two weeks ago, I estimated that COVID-mention deaths in the week ending 6 November 2020 would be around 2700: but, on last week’s evidence, they were likely to be below 2200 when fully registered (currently confirmed at 2155): a marled, important impact against my counter-factual.

“This week gives further support for down-turn in COVID-mention deaths when registration delay is adjusted for.

“As UK’s second wave initially evolved, COVID-19 deaths in England & Wales had been more than doubling fortnightly (running rate of 2.2). The running rate, from the week ending 2 October to 6 November was 10% lower at 2.0 = {761+1254+1627+2170}/{377+523+761+1254}: too early to be attributed to the start of England’s lockdown (4 November to 2 December 2020).

“However, importantly, the running rate from the week ending 9 October to 13 November has reduced again to 1.8 = {1258+1657+2195+2600}/{525+768+1258+1657}.

“More elaborately modelled, MRC Biostatistics Unit/PHE has also signalled this down-turn, see



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 the Advisory Committee, but my quote above is in my capacity as a professional statistician.”

None others received.

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