The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released provisional counts of the number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 23 April 2021.
Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, said:
“Today’s ONS bulletin on provisional numbers of deaths registered in England and Wales takes the record up to the week ending 23 April. It’s pretty well all good news. It’s also simpler to interpret than it has been for a few weeks – registrations are affected by bank holidays (because registrars don’t all operate as normal), but there was no bank holiday in the week ending 23 April, and none the week before either, so it makes some sense to look at changes across those two weeks.
“Registered numbers of deaths from all causes for the most recent week are almost 500 down compared to the week before. Typically in previous years, numbers of deaths fall at this time of year, but not very fast. As always ONS compare the number of deaths this year with the average for the five years 2015-19, to give a measure of excess deaths. In fact there are no excess deaths again this week, as has been the case for seven weeks now – the number of registered deaths is below the five-year average by 556, or about 5%. Registered deaths from all causes are down compared to the week before in England and in Wales considered separately, and in every English region except London. In London they increased, but only by 16 deaths from 970 to 986, and one always gets small statistical anomalies like that just from the workings of chance. Deaths from all causes were also below the five-year average in England and in Wales taken separately, and in every English region, again except London, but in London they were only 1.5% above the five-year average, so again probably just a chance blip.
“Again, though, the most impressive declines were in deaths involving Covid-19. The number of registered deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate fell by 102 in the latest week compared to the week before. That’s a fall of 28%, over a quarter, in a week. The number for the latest week is 260. Looking over a slightly longer period, the number is down by nearly two thirds (64%) compared to just four weeks earlier, just before the Easter holidays – and it’s a massive 97% down compared to the peak in mid-January. For the latest week compared to the week before, the percentage decrease in deaths involving Covid-19 is actually considerably larger in those aged under 50 than in people older than that. The decrease in the most recent week compared to the week before is 61% in the under 50s (just 9 in the latest week, 23 the week before) and 26% in those aged 50+ (251 in the latest week, 339 the week before). In numbers rather than percentages, the change is greater in the older group, because, as we know, the effects of the virus are more serious, on average, in older people. But the reason why the numbers of deaths related to Covid-19 is falling proportionally slower in older people now will be that they were vaccinated first, so that the really large decreases in Covid deaths in those older age groups have already occurred, before the latest week. Most people under 50 wouldn’t have been vaccinated in time to be protected from the most serious effects of Covid-19 by the latest week of death registration data. But vaccination of younger people who are at particularly high risk, for example because of pre-existing health conditions, is likely to be part of the reason that numbers of Covid deaths are reducing so fast in the younger age groups. Deaths involving Covid-19 are down in England as a whole, for the latest week compared to the week before, and in all but two of the English regions (they were unchanged in the East of England, and up by a quarter in Yorkshire and the Humber, though again you’d expect some variability just because of chance when the numbers are this low). In Wales, they were unchanged (14 in the latest week, 14 the week before).
“I ought to remind you, though, that Covid-19 hasn’t gone away. Despite these very important decreases in registered deaths related to Covid-19, the numbers of deaths are still roughly double what they were between mid-July and mid-September last year. That is also true of the deaths where Covid-19 is given as the underlying cause on the death certificate. There were 176 such deaths registered in the latest week, and again that’s very roughly twice the average level for August 2020. So things aren’t yet back to normal, whatever that means precisely. (And I’ll mention again that deaths where Covid-19 is on the death certificate but not as the underlying cause are deaths where the certifying doctor considered that Covid-19 contributed to the person’s death in some way, even though it did not cause it – so they still could well involve suffering caused by the horrible disease.)
“Last week in my comments, I said I wasn’t sure what was happening with total registered all-cause deaths, where numbers were slightly up compared to the numbers before the Easter holidays. But this seems to have been another Bank Holiday glitch after all. ONS also provide data on deaths by the date the person died, rather than the date their death was registered. Those numbers are always too low for the most recent week, because of deaths that aren’t registered yet for various reasons, and they will be revised upwards in future data releases. But the effect of late registrations is much less for weeks before the latest one, and the data show a steady decline in all-cause deaths across the Easter period.”
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.”