Coronavirus: England had highest excess deaths in Europe during pandemic, ONS says

30 July 2020, 10:17

England had highest levels of excess deaths in Europe during coronavirus pandemic
England had highest levels of excess deaths in Europe during coronavirus pandemic. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

England had the highest levels of excess deaths in Europe during the coronavirus pandemic, according to data by the Office for National Statistics.

Although England had the largest overall increase in deaths over the first half of 2020, the report says Spain was the country with the highest peak, with England having the second-highest in a comparison of 23 countries.

Excess deaths represent the number of people who die that is above the average total for the period across the previous five years.

Scientists have repeatedly said that excess mortality numbers are the most reliable way to measure the impact of the coronavirus because countries record deaths differently and do not always include those who die indirectly due to the pandemic.

Of all four UK nations, England had the highest peak excess mortality, which stood at 107.6 per cent in the week ending 17 April.

The ONS report said: "While England did not have the highest peak mortality, it did have the longest continuous period of excess mortality of any country compared, resulting in England having the highest levels of excess mortality in Europe for the period as a whole."

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Edwin Morgan, from the health analysis and life events division at the ONS, said: "Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the first half of 2020 saw extraordinary increases in mortality rates across countries in Western Europe above the 2015 to 2019 average.

"The highest peak excess mortality at national level was in Spain, with some local areas in Northern Italy and Central Spain having excess mortality levels as high as 847.7 per cent of the average.

"While none of the four UK nations had a peak mortality level as high as Spain or the worst-hit local areas of Spain and Italy, excess mortality was geographically widespread throughout the UK during the pandemic, whereas it was more geographically localised in most countries of Western Europe.

"Combined with the relatively slow downward 'tail' of the pandemic in the UK, this meant that by the end of May, England had seen the highest overall relative excess mortality out of all the European countries compared."

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Within the UK, every local authority experienced excess deaths during the peak weeks of excess mortality - the week ending 3 April to week ending 8 May.

In comparison, other Western European nations had more geographically localised excess mortality rates, while the city with the highest peak was Madrid, with 432.7 per cent excess deaths. In the UK, the city with the highest level was Birmingham, standing at 249.7 per cent.

It is the first time the ONS has compared mortality rates in different countries to measure the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes as the UK's coronavirus self-isolation period was extended to 10 days amid warnings of a potential 'second wave' of infections.

The length of time people with coronavirus symptoms across the UK will have to self-isolate for is to be increased from seven to 10 days, England's deputy chief medical officer confirmed on Thursday.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the period must increase from the current rule of seven days because of the risk individuals may still be able to spread Covid-19.

He told reporters the change for those who experience the key symptoms of a new continuous cough, high temperature or loss of taste or smell is needed because of the "low but real possibility of infectiousness" up to 10 days.

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