Coronavirus deaths revised down by 5,377 amid counting controversy

12 August 2020, 18:47

The number of coronavirus deaths has been revised down by over 5,000
The number of coronavirus deaths has been revised down by over 5,000. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

The number of Covid-19 deaths has been revised down by 5,377 amid controversy over the way they were being counted.

The number now stands at 41,329 - down from the 46,628 deaths recorded previously - which was calculated by anyone who had passed away after being diagnosed with the virus.

Previously, anyone who had tested positive for the virus who then died was counted among the deaths - even if they died months after recovering.

But the new system - agreed by the UK Government and devolved administrations - will publish the number of deaths that have occurred within 28 days of a positive lab-confirmed Covid test result each day.

On Wednesday evening, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Public Health England announced that revision and that a new system to track Covid-related deaths would be introduced immediately.

Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, said: “The way we count deaths in people with Covid-19 in England was originally chosen to avoid underestimating deaths caused by the virus in the early stages of the pandemic.

“Our analysis of the long-term impact of the infection now allows us to move to new methods, which will give us crucial information about both recent trends and overall mortality burden due to Covid-19.”

It follows criticism over how the deaths were counted previously, with many suggesting the figures could not be trusted because the system was counting recovered Covid-19 patients who died at a later died.

Professor John Newton said the previous counting method was to avoid underestimation
Professor John Newton said the previous counting method was to avoid underestimation. Picture: PA Images

DHSC added the methodology of the new system has been peer reviewed by independent academics to ensure that the best possible indicators are used, and that the methods are applied consistently across all UK nations.

A new set of figures showing the number of deaths that occur within 60 days of a positive test will also be published in England, the DHSC added.

Read more: Greater Manchester Police issue warning after 1,106 reports of Covid-19 breaches in one weekend

Separate figures published by the UK statistics agencies show there have been 56,800 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

The revised figure still means the UK has the worst death toll in Europe so far, with Italy second worst on over 35,000 deaths and Spain third with almost 29,000 recorded.

There are still questions, however, over how the UK and other countries count Covid-19 deaths and how accurate the numbers are.