expert reaction to zero COVID-related deaths reported today

expert reaction to zero COVID-related deaths reported today

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According to the DHSC COVID-19 Dashboard, there have been zero deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test in the UK today.

 

Dr Nathalie MacDermott, NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer, King’s College London, said:

“While zero daily COVID-19 related deaths for the first time since March 2020 is certainly something to be celebrated, we must remember that this follows a three day bank holiday weekend during which time deaths may not have been formally reported/recorded.

“However, what is apparent is the marked reduction in daily deaths from COVID-19 over the last couple of months, which is representative of the significant reduction in daily case numbers of infections over the last 5 months and the impact of the vaccination programme providing a level of protection to older and more vulnerable individuals.

“While there has been a slight increase in daily case numbers of infection reported in the last week as a result of the spread of the Delta variant, it is too early to determine if there will be a corresponding uptick in the number of COVID-19 related deaths, as there is a lag of 2-3 weeks in observing rising numbers of deaths following an increase in cases.

“However as data published by Public Health England last week suggests that 2 doses of COVID-19 vaccination (either Astrazeneca or Pfizer) is relatively effective against the Delta variant, it is hoped that a significant increase in deaths may not be observed due to the protection of the majority of older and vulnerable individuals who are more susceptible to severe illness and death from COVID-19.”

 

Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine, UEA, said:

“People should not get too excited about a report of zero deaths on a bank holiday or on the day after.  Several of the sources of data on deaths are not searched on bank holiday weekends and so Bank holiday Mondays and the following Tuesdays always report lower results than expected.  Wednesdays then see more deaths reported than expected.  Looking at the death data from the few days up to the weekend, deaths were at low levels with a low in the 7 day rolling mean of 5.53 deaths per day on 21st May, since then the 7 day rolling mean has been increasing up until 27th May when it reached 7.14 deaths reported/day about a 31% increase over a week, though still low numbers.

“So deaths do seem to be increasing again though as yet only slowly and the apparent dip in today’s and yesterday’s figures solely represent the impact of a bank holiday on data collection and analysis.”

 

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

“I think you can’t read much into one day with no deaths reported.  There is usually a clear weekly pattern for deaths classified by the date they were reported to the people who collated the figures, with a lot fewer deaths on Sundays and Mondays.  That’s because deaths take a bit longer to record at the weekend and that shows up in the days after weekend days.  It’s similar for days after bank holidays.  For example there were only 4 deaths reported on 4 May, the day after the May Day bank holiday, even though for most days around then, deaths were in double figures.  It doesn’t help to look at the numbers classified by the date when the person actually died, rather than the date the death was reported, because those figures are not yet complete for the last few days.

“It’s a very long time since there were no deaths reported on one day.  The last time was on 30 July last year, and that was probably a reporting glitch because deaths were mostly in double figures on other dates around then.  Before that, to find more zeros, you have to go right back to early March last year when the pandemic was just starting in the UK.  Looking at deaths classified by the date the person died, and leaving out the most recent few days because the data will not yet be complete, there were no days of zero deaths between 11 March last year and now.

“That said, though, numbers of deaths are certainly getting very low.  The seven-day average for 20-26 May, the latest that’s available on the dashboard at coronavirus.data.gov.uk classified by the date the person died, is just 6 a day.  And the seven day average for 26 May-1 June, classified instead by the date the death was reported, is also about 6 a day.  This averaging smooths out the weekly bumps, and also to some extent the effect of bank holidays.  When you think that only two months ago we were averaging over 30 a day, and a month before that at the start of March it was over 200 a day, you can see we’ve come a really long way.  A lot of that huge fall must be because of vaccines protecting against serious illness and death, but some of it will also be due to the reduction in the amount of infection circulating, because of lockdowns and similar measures.  It’s not really possible to say exactly how much is due to which of these causes.

“All these numbers use the 28-day definition, which count anyone who dies from any cause within 28 days of a positive test for the virus.  (That definition was changed last summer, but the numbers from before then were revised to use the same definition.  Other ways of counting might give different numbers, but they are all going to be low around now.)

“The signs aren’t all positive, though – numbers of new confirmed cases, and new admissions to hospital, are going up, though only quite slowly so far – so I can’t be confident that deaths will continue to decrease further.  But things are looking good on deaths now.  Nothing very special about the zero count, but the low numbers are encouraging.”

 

 

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/deaths

 

 

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.”

None others received.

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